Jewellery, sculptures, vases, sketches, photos and inventories are just some of the things that the King Baudouin Foundation has been able to acquire in an exceptional collection of masterpieces created by Philippe Wolfers (1858-1929), a key figure in Belgian Art Nouveau, and his son Marcel (1886-1976), sculptor and artist who painted on lacquer. The works comprise a selection of the very best pieces created by these two leading figures of the Wolfers Frères Company and which have always remained in the family.
Among the collection are eight unique pieces of jewellery (all of which are Exemplaires uniques), three sculptures, one painting, thirteen decorative objects and 129 sketches.
The most remarkable pieces are the Exemplaires uniques, each of which can be considered as an ambassador for the Wolfers company, on account of its fabulous craftsmanship and originality. Unfortunately, pieces of jewellery by Wolfers are few and far between today, many of them having been dismantled to recover the rare and costly materials and create new jewellery. The purchase of the Wolfers collection has thus permitted a gap in our public collections to be filled.
The beautiful pendant Libellule (1903) is considered to be the iconic piece of Philippe Wolfers’s work. The pendant Cygne et Serpents from 1899 is also very special because Philippe created it for his wife, who can be seen proudly wearing it in her portrait, painted by Firmin Baes.
The sketches include several rather surprising floral motifs of exceptional quality. The sketches from our own collection are also of special interest, such as the pendant Niké and the belt appliqué Le Jour et la Nuit. There are also sketches for the decorative hair comb Oiseaux et Iris and for the bracelet Chauves-Souris et Pavots, two of the Foundation’s previous acquisitions.
Among the works by Marcel Wolfers is Victoire à la Couronne de Laurier created in 1931 and considered as the culmination of refinement in Belgian sculptures in ivory. For the monumental 1930 Diane Chasseresse, the artist used with great talent the technique of lacquer on bronze. This work was subsequently exhibited in numerous international exhibitions.
The archives offered by the family represent a considerable source of information for the further study of the two artists’ work. They include the famous Catalogue des Exemplaires uniques by Philippe Wolfers, a large number of letters and some 1400 original photos taken by the renowned photographer Alexandre, who photographed much of Philippe Wolfers’s work.
The exceptional nature of this acquisition lies of course in the remarkable quality of the works it contains, but it is also due to the collaboration that made it possible. The excellent relationship that the Royal Museums of Art and History had enjoyed over many years with the Wolfers family was crucial, but the Museums were also able to count on the support of the King Baudouin Foundation, which never hesitated to support any initiative that might be of help. In particular, the Foundation itself acquired a piece from the Wolfers collection and made sure that the most important pieces were secured following the death of Claire-Nelly Wolfers
This collaboration was further cemented through the close partnership of the three main actors: the Wolfers family, which gave total liberty in the selection of pieces, the Museums, which provided their brilliant expertise for the project, and the King Baudouin Foundation, which has as its mission to safeguard the most significant elements of our heritage for future generations. In order to make this important purchase, the King Baudouin Foundation’s Heritage Fund worked together with three of the philanthropic funds it manages: the Christian Bauwens Fund, the Braet-Buys-Bartholemus Fund and the Marcel Van Rooy Fund.
The main part of the collection will be exhibited from 29 November 2017 at the Royal Museums of Art and History (located in the Cinquantenaire Park, Brussels) and, more specifically, in the new presentation of the ‘Wolfers Shop’ in the museum.