Jewellery by a Celebrated French Medallist

By: Dara Vandor

Featured in Our November fine jewellery Auction

Lot 39 – Frédéric-Charles Victor de Vernon (1858-1912) French 18k Yellow Gold Circular Pin depicting a maiden awaiting dawn, in raised relief diameter 1.1 in — 2.8 cm. 10.9 grams. Estimate $700 – $900

Frédéric-Charles Victor de Vernon is best remembered as an engraver of medals. His work can be found in the collection of the British Museum and the Met, as well as in several museums in his homeland of France.

Included in our Fine Jewellery auction is lot 39, a small circular 18k gold pin by the artist, which has been rendered in exquisite detail.

Livia Miliotis, from the Fine Jewellery & Watches department at Waddington’s, explains that the impeccable craftsmanship demonstrated in the rendering of the woman’s face, neck and the background details of the pin speak to de Vernon’s abilities as a sculptor and as a medallist. “I love the way he has taken a design and manipulated the metal in such a way that results in a subtle and realistic image, even managing to evoke a mood through the woman’s expression,” she writes. Intrigued, we decided to do some research into the life and career of this famed engraver.

De Vernon was born in Paris on November 17, 1858. He apprenticed in the studio of the engraver Paulin Tasset. At the age of 21, he enrolled in the École des Beaux-Arts, studying under the sculptor Pierre-Jules Cavelier(1814-1894) and most importantly of all, Jules-Clément Chaplain (1839-1909).

Chaplain was a sculptor as well as the most important French medallist of his period. In 1877, Chaplain was named the official medallist to the French government, as well as being responsible for creating portraits of every president of the French Republic from 1877 to 1899. He also received the commission to engrave the new gold coinage of France. Alongside his official duties, he produced personal medals and plaquettes renowned for their imaginative qualities and superb compositions in the tradition of classical sculpture. Chaplain is noted as being “a total master of the reducing machine that enabled large sculptural models to be translated into dies without any loss of the emotional and aesthetic impact.”

It was under this masterful tutelage that de Vernon received his education. De Vernon won the coveted Prix de Rome for his composition “Jason Conquering the Golden Fleece” in 1887. He had placed second in the competition six years earlier with a rendering of “The Labours of Virgil.” The Prix de Rome was scholarship given to arts students by the French government, having been established in 1663 by Louis XIV. Winners were given a bursary allowing them to live and work in Rome for three to five years at the state’s expense. Initially awarded only to painters and sculptors, the prize was expanded to include architecture in 1720, music in 1803 and engraving in 1804.

After winning this prestigious award, De Vernon spent three years working in Rome at the French Academy (also known as the Villa Medici) from 1887-1890, where he produced portraits, including those of the Impressionist painter Henri-Camille Danger, the sculptor Edgar Boutry, the musician Gustave Charpentier as well as a noted triptych depicting The Three Ages. From Rome, de Vernon sent work to Paris to be displayed at the 1889 World’s Fair, an exposition most notable for debuting the Eiffel Tower.

At the end of his scholarship, de Vernon returned to France, exhibiting regularly to great acclaim. In 1900, he won the first prize for his work at that year’s World’s Fair, and was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Nine years later, he was elected a member of the Academy of Fine Arts, while also replacing his old teacher, Chaplain, at the École des Beaux-Arts.

De Vernon was widely celebrated in his lifetime. He died suddenly on October 28, 1912, only a few days after having finished a portrait of Paul Georges Dieulafoy (1839-1911), a noted French physician and surgeon best known for his study of acute appendicitis and gastric bleeding. Dieulafoy had been the Chief of Medicine at the famed Hôtel-Dieu de Paris hospital, which is where de Vernon’s last work, a bas-relief plaque of the doctor, resides today.


We invite you to browse the full catalogue for our final Fine Jewellery auction of 2020, offered online November 28 – December 3.

This auction includes approximately 170 pieces from notable jewellery houses and goldsmiths such as Buccellati, Hammerman Bros., Frédéric-Charles Victor de Vernon, Georg Jensen, Lucas, Beni Sung, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co.. Expect a wide selection of antique and contemporary rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and men’s jewellery, many set with diamonds, coloured diamonds and a diverse range of gemstones.

We are always delighted to provide additional photographs, condition notes and/or more detail.

Please contact Donald McLean for more information.

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