Shagreen and Art Deco’s “Great Gatsby” moment

Shagreen - 2With the anticipation that built up to the release of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby this year, Art Deco is having a revival moment – not that it ever really goes out of style.

It seems that the stores are filled with beaded frocks with drop-waists, perfect for your evening jaunt to your local juice joint with your favorite dew-dropper, it’ll be the bee’s knees until we all get pinched.

Just me? Okay.

Anyways, while perusing the lots for Heritage’s June Decorative Arts sale, a beautiful shagreen box caught my eye.

Shagreen – or the rawhide of a shark or ray – has been used as both a practical and decorative material for centuries, but it enjoyed particular popularity during the 1920s and 1930s.

ShagreenIts rough texture was first a boon for the soldier who needed a strong grip on his sword hilt, and was later popularized in 18th-century Europe by Jean-Claude Galluchat, the master leatherworker of Louis XV’s court.

In fact, the word “shagreen” derives from the French chagrin, or anxiety, vexation, or annoyance, owing to the material’s rough, bumpy texture. I suppose it is vexing that rays have such beautiful skin, yes? I kid.

The piece that caught my eye is a silver-mounted shagreen cigarette box by John Paul Cooper, who was a British craftsman active until 1933. He was widely renowned for his use of shagreen along with other exotic materials, including coconut shells and ostrich eggs. You can find fine examples of his work in many prestigious museum collections, most notably that of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Nowadays shagreen is used on everything from briefcases to tables to cowboy boots.

This lot is begging to be sat on a bar amidst gin rickeys and the sparkling conversation of a few modern-day bright young things, don’t you agree?

Posted by Heritage Editorial

This article was written as a collaborative effort by multiple experts within the category at Heritage Auctions.

  1. You’ve really imrpsesed me with that answer!


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