Hindsight is 1921: Reflections on Lalique Near the End of the Pandemic

Written by Katie Buckingham, Curator 

Now that I’m a year into a pandemic, I completely understand why the Roaring Twenties followed the Spanish Flu. I don’t know about you, but after 356 days (and counting) of being marooned in a box on Zoom, I could really use a bigger place. And a fun party. And some new things. 

MOG’s newest exhibition, René Lalique: Art Deco Gems from the Steven and Roslyn Shulman Collection, showcases the pinnacle of Lalique’s career in glass. And, after the last 12 months, I appreciate it from a new perspective. Of course the survivors of World War I and the 1918 influenza pandemic felt the desire to reinvent themselves and live in excess!  

René Lalique (French, 1860–1945) Deux cavaliers (Two Horsemen) Table Centerpiece, 1920 Mold-pressed glass; bronze base 10 × 36 1/4 × 4 in. Promised gift of Steven and Roslyn Shulman Photo by Duncan Price

Their drive to be reborn led to a decade of consumption and revelry that became known as the Roaring Twenties. Lalique’s Art Deco designs are both art and artifact, representing the era’s luxurious aesthetics and the era’s new technologies and social changes.  

The Deux cavaliers (Two Horsemen) table centerpiece is a dramatic composition of two horsemen, poised mid-duel. By the 1920s, many homes had electric lighting. Lalique took advantage of this new technology, designing statement lighting fixtures like this, with enough presence to replace the now-old fashioned candelabras and chandeliers.  

René Lalique (French, 1860–1945) Roscae figurines (Rosette Figurines) Perfume Bottle for Maison Lalique Mold-blown and mold-pressed glass, enamel 4 3/8 × 4 3/8 × 3/4 in. Promised gift of Steven and Roslyn Shulman Photo by Duncan Price

Partly as a result of the suffrage movement, women took center stage in the 1920s. Known as Flappers, these women pushed economic, political, and social boundaries, and their independence sent waves through the design world. Lalique created bottles, like Roscae figurines (Rosette Figurines), with a sculptural eye. They were talismans, representing the sophistication and vibrant independence of their owners.  

Standing in the exhibition, I can’t help but hope we are at the beginning of another Roaring Twenties. I wonder if people from 1920 dreamed of the “after pandemic” with the same visions of celebratory excess that I hope will follow this immensely trying year. I’d like to think so.