Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Belgian Art Deco Silver - The Wolfers Freres

From Gold and Silver Hallmarks
Two main centres of style influenced European Art Deco.

The French Art Deco (The Architect Le Corbusier and Jean Puifrocat’s plastic translation of numeric calculations and geometric rigor) and the Bauhaus in Germany.

One of the best-known Belgian silversmiths was Wolfers. (Wolfers Frères Workshop and retailers) 

The Wolfers family is a ‘dynasty’ of silversmiths'. In the 20th century, Philippe Wolfers was the chief silversmith and jeweller during the Belgian Art Nouveau period.

He was the designer for the Brussels Workshop, 'Wolfers’ Frères,' and also created his personal workshop in La Hulpe (South of Brussels) with a selected crew of artists and craftsmen. There he created his unique pieces of Art Nouveau silverware, sculpture, and jewellery.

Philippe Wolfers was present in 1925 at the ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes’ which gave the name to the ‘Art Deco’ Movement.

In the Belgian Pavilion, he presented what would be his last striking design,' The Gioconda,' created in collaboration with other designers of the Wolfers Frères workshop.

How to recognize ‘Wolfers’ marks?

For the  ‘Wolfers Frères Workshop’ the mark is usually a triangle with 3 stars and the silver standard. The Silver Standard before 1942. = 833/1000

When the object is a one off commission there should be another 'Wolfers makers' mark or designer’s mark such as the special entwined initials ‘FW’ for ‘Wolfers Frères’ Workshop’.
Special Items from Wolfers Frères Workshop productions were handmade. Later on they were also mechanically produced.

Philippe Wolfers died in 1929, Marcel Wolfers followed as the designer and director of the workshop. One of his specialties was lacquer work developed after the Chinese ‘Sung’ lacquer technique and his encounter with the French lacquer master Jean Dunand.

The Workshop also produced the creations of an interesting designer, ‘Dom Martin,’ a priest who was also a silversmith, from the abbey of Keizersberg.  He crafted fine quality religious items with visible hammering and also collaborated with Marcel Wolfers who lacquered some of his objects.

During the Art Deco period, clients mostly ordered and bought tea and coffee services, flatware, plates and hollowware, and sport trophies. We discovered that those Art Deco creations were not so successful on a commercial basis.

The public and clients before the second world War were rather classical and preferred to order items in the Neo-Classical revival style, so lots of items did not sell at all and we found them still on display in shops’ cupboards in the 1950’s ,60’s, and 70’s.  This was probably also a consequence of the economical crisis of the 1930’s.

Art Deco style silverware took a ‘second breath’ after the 1940’s and 50’s and was more in ‘vogue’ at that time. The objects of that period follow the same line as before the war.

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