Frédéric Charles Victor de Vernon

Frédéric Charles Victor de Vernon was born in 1858 in Paris where he spent most of his life until his death in 1912.

Frédéric Charles Victor de Vernon

As a teenager, de Vernon learnt die engraving at the workshop of celebrated engraver Ernest Paulin Tasset. Tasset made medals and commemorative coins for the Paris mint and for many other countries’ currencies. De Vernon’s skills were recognised and he progressed to the prestigious École des beaux-arts in 1879, when he was 21. He was taught by sculptor Pierre-Jules Cavelier, who also taught British sculptor Sir Alfred Gilbert RA, and by medallist Jules-Clément Chaplain. With guidance from a sculptor and a medallist, it was perhaps unsurprising that de Vernon embraced both forms in his work: creating small sculptures to be made into medals.

A talented sculptor, engraver, and medallist, de Vernon exhibited every year at the Parisian Salons, grand exhibitions of artists’ new work, where he started garnering more acclaim. In 1887, he won the premier Prix de Rome for his medal depicting ‘Jason Conquering the Golden Fleece’. The prize was a scholarship from the French government to live and work in Rome. As a result, de Vernon spent three years at the French Academy in Rome, the Villa Medici.

de Vernon’s work with Duval

De Vernon’s return to Paris marked the beginning of his prolific period of medal making. Jeweller Julien Duval, a peer from the École des Arts Décoratifs, came to him with a proposition: that de Vernon designed medals that could be used in both the traditional medallist style and in lighter medal-inspired jewellery. Influenced by ancient coins and medallions, these medal-jewels were a popular choice during the archaeological revival trend in the mid-nineteenth century. Jewellers continued to turn to the medal as the beginnings of the Art Nouveau movement took hold at the end of the century. A principal tenet of Art Nouveau amongst its early pioneers in Belgium and France, as well as William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement in Britain, was to break down the divide between fine and applied arts. Medallists’ work sculpting and engraving small works of art for medals thus put them right at the centre of the Art Nouveau movement, its principles and practitioners.

Julien Duval specialised in editions of artists’ and sculptors’ medals. With de Vernon, the pair worked together on a successful series of models from 1896. De Vernon would begin by designing the motif, then sculpting and engraving a die to reproduce the design. Then Duval’s workshop took over the process of making multiple copies of the design in bronze, silver or gold. Together, de Vernon and Duval, created a series of medals with motifs of women representing dawn, day and night. Though the medal in February’s auction is only marked ‘F. Vernon’, some other examples of ‘La Nuit’ include Duval’s stamp. It is therefore likely that lot 381 is indeed from their collaboration. The pair also made several designs of the Virgin Mary, or Madonna, with a halo or a stained-glass window of plique-à-jour or cloisonné enamel. One such example is now in the collection of the British Museum. They also made designs of the ‘Femme-Fleurs’ motif of flowers surrounding a woman’s head.

de Vernon’s legacy

De Vernon is now known both for his jewellery designs and his medals. He worked on commissions for medals to commemorate the birthdays of scientists, anniversaries of international congresses, the opening of a water source at Evian Spa, prizes for horticultural competitions, and the official medals of the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris. His medals are now held in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and, in London, the British Museum, the Science Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

La Nuit by de Vernon

An Art Nouveau gold ‘The Night’ pendant, with rose-cut diamond ‘star’ highlights, by Frédéric Charles Victor de Vernon in February’s Fine Jewellery auction.

La Nuit de Vernon

This pendant is a delicate example of de Vernon’s prowess as a sculptor. Such skills earned him great accolades and numerous commissions in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. With many of his medals and jewels in museum collections around the world, the pendant in this sale offers a rare chance to own a small piece of Art Nouveau history.

Fine Jewellery auction – Thursday 9th February 2023 at 10 am.

‘La Nuit’: An Art Nouveau pendant by Frédéric Charles Victor de Vernon.

Lot 381
Estimate £1,000 – £1,500

'The Night’ pendant, with rose-cut diamond ‘star’ highlights, by Frédéric Charles Victor de Vernon.

This design is ‘La Nuit’ – ‘The  Night’. The gold pendant features a woman, representing the embodiment of the night. She is in profile, her eyes closed and one hand raised. Her other hand is clutching a corsage of poppies. Around her light, tied-up curls, twinkle stars set with rose-cut diamonds.

Though poppies later became associated with remembrance after the First World War, in the earlier language of flowers poppies symbolised deep sleep. It is likely this meaning that de Vernon referenced in his design for ‘La Nuit’. The flowers and the swirling sky of this pendant show a distinct leaning towards Art Nouveau styles and motifs. They were typically naturalistic and sinuous, at a time when the movement was gaining momentum across Europe.

The British Museum holds a brooch by de Vernon with a medallion featuring a female head in profile, with small diamonds at her neck and around her hair, reminiscent of the style of The Night.

The delicacy of de Vernon’s depiction of the night stemmed from his training in engraving and sculpture.

The sale of the de Vernon pendant in February’s Fine Jewellery auction thus presents an opportunity to have your own museum-worthy jewel and a fine example of a pendant from the burgeoning Art Nouveau movement.

A similar ‘La Nuit’ pendant is illustrated in Vivienne Becker’s Art Nouveau Jewelry (1985), plate 147.

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