Monday, May 7, 2012

FRENCH CONNECTION: PAUL GILLOT, MARCUS & COMPANY, AND GUSTAV MANZ

Gold bison and carnelian seal inscribed 
"To Marcel Knecht from Paul Gillot / New York 1928 / Gillot & Co" 
Carved and signed by Gustav Manz 
Nelson Rarities photo

A tireless ambassador for luxe and Franco-American friendship, Paul Gillot arrived in New York in April 1902, to join Marcus & Company, a prominent retailer of artistic jewelry. Trained as a draughtsman, the 25-year-old Parisian came with a resume that included honorable mention in a competition organized in 1898 by the Chambre Syndicale de la Bijouterie for 'a buckle or clasp for a waist belt, to be executed in gold or silver, without any gem motif.' (In his review of the entries for Art et decoration, Henri Vever made note of the 'happy disposition' of masks and looping horns in Gillot's drawing, singling it out as one of the show's remarquables projects.) 



Paul Gillot's design for a horn boucle de ceinture caught the eye of 
  Parisian jeweler and art collector Henri Vever (1854-1942). Maison Vever was at the vanguard of the art nouveau movement
Image Jewelers' Circular, August 3, 1898

Paris at the turn of the 20th century was well stocked with bijoutiers. Other cities beckoned. On his naturalization petition, Gillot listed London as his last foreign residence prior to emigrating. According to London court records a claim for 3 weeks' back wages brought by the young French designer against Rudolf Brettner, a Hungarian-born diamond setter, was settled in Gillot's favor; Brettner himself had relocated from New York in 1901, perhaps lured by heavy demand for tiaras prior to Edward VII's coronation (Cartier produced at least 27 of them). Gillot's accomplishments reportedly included designing jewels for the coronet of the late King Edward VII of England and "the major portion of Sarah Bernhardt's personal jewelry" (Yonkers Statesman, March 12, 1927). 




Openwork and enamel pendant by Rene Lalique, circa 1898, 
depicting Sarah Bernhardt as Melissande in La Princess Lointaine
Image from Le Figaro (for an exhibit organized by Musee du Luxembourg in Paris, 2007)

Though documentation for such commissions is scant, Marcus & Co's president, William Elder Marcus, was impressed enough by the young Frenchman's artistic credentials, including first-hand knowledge of aesthetic techniques such as plique-a-jour (rarely used by American jewelers before 1900), to recruit him as a designer. Gillot remained with the firm for about twelve years.




          Peridot and diamond pendant brooch with plique-a-jour 
enameling inside textured gold scrolls. Retailed by Marcus & Co, 
in the early 1900s, when Gillot was a designer for the firm
Christie's photo

Gillot was likely introduced to Gustav Manz soon after joining the firm. An independent designer and fabricator, Manz worked in Paris and London before establishing his own studio a scant block from Union Square in 1892. Marcus & Co (and its earlier iteration Jaques & Marcus) was the training ground for several of Manz's retail clients, including F. Walter Lawrence, Edmund Andrews of Winsten & Andrews, and Raymond C. Yard, whose salon at 522 Fifth catered to America's tycoons and Hollywood elite. In 1907, William E. Marcus, the firm's founder, had even dispatched his elder son to study jewelry designing under Manz and his then-partner Walter P. McTeigue (McTeigue, Manz & Co).



Rendering for a green tourmaline and diamond ring
with carved platinum and gold lotus or fleur de lis mounting 
Sold to Gillot & Co in November 1916, 
shortly after the firm incorporated
Gustav Manz stockbook, Winterthur Museum

Gillot aspired to open his own atelier, but first there was rent to be paid. At Marcus, Gillot received his first extensive press coverage for a laurel wreath he designed and presented to Sarah Bernhardt when she brought her troupe to New York City's Palace Theatre in May 1913. For this, the second (of several) "farewell" American tours, Bernhardt reprised scenes from her repertoire of theater classics. Though she was in her 60s, and hobbled by a knee injury (her leg was amputated the following year), Bernhardt's throaty dramatic recitations thrilled audiences accustomed to vaudeville farce. The tribute organized by Gillot was applauded too—apart from an anonymous letter-writer in The New York Times who complained that its coverage had ignored the far more impressive accomplishment of impresario Martin Beck in persuading the actress and her company to bring their act to the Palace in the first place.


Gillot's tribute to Bernhardt generated publicity for the designer
 The Theatre, September 1913

Gillot shared design credit with John W. Alexander, a portrait painter and decorative artist who served as president of the National Academy of Design. (Among the artifacts in storage at the Smithsonian is a botanical laurel wreath from Alexander's studio, probably used as a reference for plaques and bronzes.) While no manufacturing records have surfaced, judging from period photographs the the delicate wreath of golden leaves and silver berries was the work of a master craftsman. Manz's reputation for fine gold-work—demonstrated in two dozen pieces wrought for F. Walter Lawrence's display at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition—made him a likely candidate for the job. (Years later, reflecting on peak moments of his career to a family member, Manz specifically recalled a "bracelet" presented to Mme. Bernhardt, though whether he created the piece in New York or during his own apprentice years in Europe was not recorded.) 

Sarah Bernhardt sported a Napoleon hat while performing in Une Nuit de Noel sous le Terreur during her American farewell tour in 1913

Gillot continued to bank on Bernhardt's patronage—although the relationship produced less magnificent jewelry than her collaborations with Mucha and Lalique, and was strained by Bernhardt's chronic financial difficulties: in 1918, Gillot & Co. filed an attachment against Bernhardt's bank account for $5,700 for nonpayment of an outstanding bill, and was reported in The New York Times; the suit was retracted shortly after the press got wind of it.  It's possible Gillot and the divine Sarah were acquainted prior to her New York engagement. Certainly he—and 50 million other Frenchmen—saw her perform in Paris during his student days; it's possible he apprenticed at one of the jewelry houses she favored, or been introduced by Mme. Marie Gillot—whose theatrical headgear were trimmed at 15, rue de la Paix, on the same block as Vever and Louis Aucoc (Gillot's surname is quite common in Paris, and we've not determined whether the jeweler and the milliner were in fact related). 


  Belle Epoque blue spinel and diamond ring 
Signed Gillot & Company 
Christie's photo

Every summer, Gillot would travel to Paris to visit his parents at 27, rue Doudeauville. The Union syndicale of carpentry workers in the Seine Quarter occupied the ground floor of the building, where it offered lessons in technical drawing and design to members, a possible clue to the occupation of Gillot's father Pierre. In October 1904, Gillot's brother, Adrien-Henri Gillot, a painter and teacher at the same address, arrived in New York for an extended visit. New York Census records for 1905 show the brothers residing in Valhalla/Mount Pleasant, NY, with a French-born dressmaker, Valera, who was identified as Gillot's wife. (No other records for Valera have surfaced.) 


An early art deco jade, onyx, and diamond bar brooch
Signed Gillot & Co; maker unknown
Photo Bonhams London

Gillot married Mathilde Regina Wyngaert, on August 20, 1908. According to her passport application, Mathilde had emigrated from Rotterdam in 1898. The ceremony took place in Newark, New Jersey, then a major center of gold jewelry manufacturing in America. Perhaps Mathilde, too, had been employed in the industry or was related to a gem merchant or cutter. The couple soon moved into a house in the Hudson River village of Hastings, NY, a short commute from Grand Central Station.



Beautiful navette: Aquamarine mounted in an art deco single-cut diamond pierced surround, circa 1920. Signed Gillot & Co., maker unknown 
Christie's Photo

Gillot's career at Marcus & Company was interrupted by the German army's invasion of France in August 1914. According to his petition for naturalization, he obtained leave of absence from Marcus "for the purpose of enlisting in the French army, which he did immediately upon his arrival in France" (as did brother Adrien). He served in the trenches until battle wounds and illness took him out of combat. 
Mathilde had followed her husband to France in November 1915, and was living with her widowed mother-in-law in Paris when Gillot was discharged on May 22, 1915. The couple's address before sailing to New York in June 1915 was Le Grand Hotel, 12 boulevard des Capucines (where two years later another Dutch emigre, the dancer and alleged spy Mata Hari, entertained her lovers). 



Gillot in French Infantry uniform, New York Herald, June 24, 1915
Image Old Fulton NY Postcards

Femmes des Croix-Rouge, Paris, 1915 
Photographer unknown

Gillot was welcomed back to his former job designing for Marcus, and the firm's president, William Elder Marcus, sponsored his application for citizenship in 1916. But Gillot evidently returned from France with a mind to open his own boutique of imported wares and novelties. A trade journal of that period notes that Gillot & Co incorporated in September 1916, capitalized at $20,000 and dealing in "wooden ware, leather goods, jewelry, etc."; Gillot's co-investors were H.B. Smith and Kirk W. Newell (who would later partner with jeweler Albert E. Betteridge). The importing enterprise was short-lived, and Paul and Mathilde continued the jewelry business at 546 Fifth Avenue, next door to Marcus & Company, in a building that housed a number of interior design firms. 


           
 

Gillot purchased one of Manz's violet rings set with sapphire and diamonds; Manz also carved violet pendants, varying the number of blossoms and leaves to accommodate different stones. Violet drawing Winterthur Museum; violet in hand from private collection



Costbook notes for Gustav Manz platinum and gold acanthus leaf mounting 
sold to "P. Gillot" on November 8, 1920. 
Gustav Manz stock book, Winterthur Museum


In December 1917, another laurel wreath designed by Gillot was presented to Vira Boarman Whitehouse in recognition of her work for the Woman Suffrage Party of New York. (The metal alone cost $1,000, according to The New York Times; in 2004, the 18k gold wreath was part of the National Jewelry Institute exhibit "America the Beautiful" curated by Ralph O. Esmerian). 


Gillot designed an 18k laurel wreath for Vira Boarman Whitehouse (Mrs. Norman deR. Whitehouse), seated above far right, at the Harris Theatre during New York Suffrage Convention, February 1916
Image of the wreath, below, from Judith Price's 
Masterpieces of American Jewelry (2004)
  


Gillot's name was also attached to a foot-long, 22-carat gold oak leaf branch presented to the French general Marshal Joseph-Jacques Joffre on September 14, 1917, three years after he led the Allies to victory at the Marne. The fundraising committee included Mme. Bernhardt, Michael Dreicer, Henry Flagler, Mrs. George Garreaud, Mrs. Benjamin J. Guinness, Joseph W. Harriman, Arthur Hermes, Adrian Iselin Jr., Otto H. Kahn, Charles Knoedler, John A. Noble, Clarence H. Mackay, Henry W. Taft, among others. To promote public contributions, Knoedler & Co displayed the original wax model in its gallery at 566 Fifth Ave.

                                    

"Un Hommage Americain au Vainqueur de la Marne" — Marshal Joffre (holding his golden oak branch) with U.S. Ambassador William Graves Sharp, Paris, France. Published in L'Illustration, 1917


Newspaper photograph of the c. 1917 oak branch tribute Gillot designed for Marshal Joffre bearing the inscription 'Au Héros de la Marne' next to an undated oak branch motif from Gustav Manz's design scrapbook. The Manz sketch is 2.25 X .75 inches; the Joffre trophy, rendered in 22-carat gold, was approximately 12 X 5 inches

Three years later, in 1921, Gillot designed a gold and marble trophy topped with a French rooster for Marshal Ferdinand Foch, on behalf of the Federation of French War Veterans of America (before the war, someone had asked Foch to estimate the smallest British military force that would be of practical use to him in the trenches; he mustered the perfect Gallic reply: "A single British soldier—and we will see to it that he is killed. Then we will know we have the entire nation in arms.")  

Field Marshal Ferdinand Foch and Marcel Knecht 
at Statue of Lafayette Metz, France 
Aug 21, 1920

In the 1920s, Gillot commissioned Manz to create a seal fob as a token d'estime for French Embassy attache Marcel Knecht. The carnelian base was topped by a miniature American bison carved in 18K gold by Gustav Manz (an identical fob remains in the collection of Manz's family). As a young man, Knecht served as commissioner for l'Exposition de Nancy (1909). Its sponsors hoped to broadcast the great strides in Science, Art, and Industry in the decades since France's painful defeat in the war of 1870. A war veteran and journalist for Le Matin, Knecht was appointed head of the French Information Bureau. A popular dinner speaker, he traveled across the United States on behalf of the French Government between the two world wars, bestowing crosses of the Legion of Honor on Americans who'd fought or performed some other service for France. 



Marcel Knecht, circa 1919

Between the wars, Gillot & Co decamped often—from 546 to 605 Fifth Avenue (c. 1920), then to 557 Fifth (c. 1922); 609 Fifth at 49th Street, where lingerie and dry-goods merchant James McCutcheon had built a spacious new department store (c. 1925) and, lastly, 610 Fifth, across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral (c. 1937). Conveniently for Gillot, who organized so many events for the French Colony in New York, the building also housed the French Government Tourist Office.  For many years he served as Vice President of the Federation of French War Veterans and as Honorary Aide de Camp for the New York State Veterans of Foreign Wars. 

Peridot, calibre sapphire, and gold frame brooch 
with granulation and wirework 
Maker unknown; signed Gillot & Co
Christie's photo




Art deco diamond, sapphire, opal and platinum brooch 
Retailed by Gillot & Co, circa 1920s
Image courtesy Zeit Fine Jewelry

In February 1942, a Gillot & Co associate brought his 3-year-old grandson to visit the firm's offices at Rockefeller Center, which had a view of the Hudson River, where the SS Normandie had caught fire earlier that week. The jewel of French ocean liners had been seized after France surrendered to Germany and was being converted to a troopship when a spark from a blowtorch started the inferno. Though not a tall man (5'6"), Gillot had an imposing presence and his expression that day, as the ship smoldered on its side a few blocks away, thoroughly terrified his young visitor. In the waiting room of the French Line was the decorative plaque Gillot had designed commemorating the many Americans who'd fought for France. 



Paul Gillot, undated photo, Bain News Service. 
Library of Congress archive


Gillot retired two years before his death on November 19, 1949, after an accidental tumble down the stairs at his Hastings home. He was 72, survived by Mathilde, his wife and business partner for nearly four decades (Mathilde . As an artist and promoter extraordinaire, he'd partaken of the social and cultural life in his adopted city, was a life member of the Metropolitan Opera Club (whose throng donned white tie and assembled in a special omnibus box on opening nights), and amassed what was said to be the most complete collection of colored diamonds in the world—110 distinct shades—earning him the moniker "King of Diamonds." That title would pass to Harry Winston, but Gillot might prefer to be remembered for the gold medal he received in 1926, for his efforts "to have French art introduced in American jewelry designing." 



Best in Bow:  Edwardian brooch signed Gillot & Co, featured in 
Elizabeth Taylor's book My Love Affair with Jewelry (2002),
co-authored with Ruth Peltason


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All Rights Reserved 
GUSTAV MANZ LLC
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Thanks to Jeanne Solensky and the library staff at Winterthur Museum; the librarians at Smithsonian Institute for answering a query regarding John W. Alexander; the genies at Old Fulton NY Postcards for digitizing back issues of newspapers; and to the grandson of longtime Gillot & Company associate Harry R. Brandt for sharing memories of his visit to the New York office in February 1942. [Updated May 17, 2015]

2 comments:

  1. Dear Laura,
    What a great article about Paul Gillot,You certainly did alot of research. I am still looking to see if others have any of his paintings.
    Thank you
    Lou


    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Lou,
    Great to hear from you. Hope your research turns up some of Gillot's artwork. I've been looking through old fashion journals, trying to find his mother (not sure why, but have this hunch she was a milliner or dressmaker... ).
    All good wishes for the New Year,
    Laura

    ReplyDelete