As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of my favorite silversmiths is the French modernist Jean Puiforcat. Now, last time I told you that his innovative designs in silver were heavily inspired by both mathematics and God. Looking at his admittedly exquisite work, I have to say I can see neither at play, but a wonderful article by Cooper Hewitt-curator Gail Davidson explains it all.
In the late 1920s, Puiforcat became interested in applying proportions based on the golden section to his silver tea sets, coffee pots, trays, etc. Well, I never made it past algebra in school, so I’ll let Davidson describe the concept to you:
"Briefly described, the golden section is the ratio of two segments of any form so that the dimension of the smaller segment is to the dimension of the larger segment as the dimension of the larger segment is to the sum of both segments. Written algebraically it is a/b = b/(a b); or 1:1.618. The golden section, also known as the golden mean, golden rectangle, and divine proportion, is often represented by the Greek letter phi (after Phidias; w. c. 490- 430 B.C.), as well as by a pentagram, or a logarithmic spiral, since each contains the golden section."
Davidson notes that Puiforcat believed that mathematical order was divinely inspired, and a close friend, who was also a Catholic priest, may have encouraged him in his studies on the golden section.
Although Puiforcat liked his angles and numbers, this doesn’t mean he produced very austere pieces. On the contrary:
“Puiforcat's genius, especially evident in the objects he made in the 1930s, was to make this cool, calculated aesthetic supremely sensuous, giving a "poetic sense to geometry." (30) This poetry of contour and form resulted in part from the designer's deliberate advance from straight lines and angular shapes in the 1920s to circles and curves in the 1930s.”
This large Sterling Silver tray is a perfect example of Puiforcat's "cool, calculated aesthetic," clearly depicting the understated craftsmanship of his work. (for more information on the tray, click here.)
With the outbreak of WWII, Jean Puiforcat fled France and settled in Mexico, where he continued to produce silver items for the U.S. market. Many critics see the influence of pre-Columbian art in his later work. He died shortly after his return to Paris in 1945.
A few years before his death, while in exile from the Second World War, Puiforcat, veteran of the First World War, wrote the following:
“Today more than ever there exists the danger of a gray and vulgar future and it threatens the silversmith more than anyone. The silversmith has the duty to contribute to and maintain what is left of feelings in the heart of man.”
And that’s why, whenever I see Puiforcat silver today, I think: the simplicity—it’s so beautifully misleading!