Jewelry Spotting: Painted Gems of the New Orleans Museum of Art

New Orleans Museum of Art

The entrance to NOMA

I’m no art expert. I’ve learned enough over the last couple of years to tell your Warhols from your Picassos, your Monets from your Manets, but that’s about it. Still, just because I don’t hold all the cards in the art knowledge game doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good museum. My husband and I try to hit up some sort of museum wherever we’re traveling, so while in New Orleans earlier this month, we paid a visit to NOMA, the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Now, another confession: I can get a little impatient. Once I get my fill of paintings, portraits, and sculptures, I’m ready to go. Mr. Siminitz, however, can spend hours reading all of the descriptions of every single piece in the museum. So I devised a little game for myself: Spot the Jewelry. It’s wildly interesting to see how women—those lucky enough to have their likenesses forever preserved in paint—wore jewelry. During my little scavenger hunt, I spotted a number of great finds: a plethora of pearls (big status marker), bracelets that look like they were crafted in today’s market, and some very creative styling that we could swear all the “it” girls just started (but that’s never the case, is it?). Here are some of the highlights.

Odalisque, Charles Lenoir

Charles-Amable Lenoir (French, 1861–1940), Odalisque

Admittedly, I first noticed her spot-on bohemian style, but then upon closer inspection:
 
Charles Amable Lenoir (French, 1861-1940) Odalisque
 
Look at that bracelet! It looks like something crafted by Todd Reed, or maybe one of the recycled steel pieces from Robert Grey Kaylor. I’d love to know what the gemstones are in that piece. It almost looks like a bit of enamel, and is that an aquamarine? 
 
 
Giovanni Boldini, Portrait of a Young Woman in Prifile, C. 1895

Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842–1931), Portrait of a Young Woman in Profile, c. 1895


Giovanni Boldini (Italian, 1842-1931), Portrait of a Young Woman in Profile, c. 1895

She’s so pretty in pink that ethereal dress looks like it could just float away. Of course a simple strand of pearls makes an appearance here, but what’s really interesting is what we see on the woman’s hand: a pinky ring! More pearls make this an intricate look that I’m having trouble deciphering from the photo, but a simple piece this is not.

 

John Singer Sargent, Portrait of Mrs. Asher, 1898

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925), Portrait of Mrs. Asher B. Wertheimer, 1898


John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Portrait of Mrs. Asher B. Wertheimer, 1898

The artist Sargent painted portraits of the entire Wertheimer family—a commission spanning 10 years and resulting in 12 oil paintings. Mrs. Asher B. Wertheimer appears to have the monopoly on pearls (read: She’s quite wealthy and wants you to know it). She starts with pearl earrings, then piles on a multi-row choker, accenting that with a rope of pearls that wraps around a couple of times ending draped across her fingers. The other wrist (actually both, I think), carry bracelets, and a ruby ring (I’ve imagined it to be a family piece), provides basically the only pop of bright color in the portrait. Oh, and there’s a brooch! I love this painting.

 

Frank Markham Skipworth, A Roman Holiday, 1889

Frank Markham Skipworth (English, active 1882–1929), A Roman Holiday, 1889

This is, without a doubt, the best jewelry painting in the entire museum. There’s just so much to admire. The women are exquisite, and each piece of jewelry they’re wearing would absolutely find a place in our jewelry boxes today. The combination of gold and pearl pieces is rad; I just added a collar necklace similar to the woman in orange’s to my wishlist the other day; and oh, how I wish I could fit one of those bangles around my upper arm. The detail on the rings, too, is just enchanting. But the scene depicts somewhat of a brutal moment. I couldn’t find too much by way of its origins, but I was able to find this verse associated with it:

“She saw the seething mass, the butchery,
Her proud eyes never flinched, nor paled her cheek.
Intent and beautiful she gazed unmoved,
Whilst at her side, the maid of gentler mood.
Alone of that vast throng, with pity stirred,
And heart revolting from the unwonted scene,
Turned sick away.” — E.M.D.
(Source: Exhibition of the Royal Academy)

 

Franz Xavier Winterhalter, Young Woman in a Ball Gown, 1850

Franz Xaver Winterhalter (German, 1805–1873), Young Woman in a Ball Gown, 1850


Franz Xaver Winterhalter (French, born Germany, 1805-1873), Young Woman in a Ball Gown, 1850


The artist Winterhalter is best known for his portraits of royalty, painting Empress Eugenie and Empress Elisabeth of Austria. In fact, his résumé is chock-full of the rich and famous, but this Young Woman in a Ball Gown remains nameless. Is that perhaps why she isn’t dressed to the nines in pearls like some of her fellow paintees? Sure, that neckline could use something to adorn it, but take a look at the charm bracelet. While I can’t quite make out what’s on each of the charms, I do see a cross. I’d sure love to know the story behind that piece.


Portrait of Marie Antoinette

Élisabeth Vigeé-Lebrun (French, 1755–1842), Portrait of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France, c. 1788

Two things about this painting. One, it’s literally made for a queen. I wish I had gotten a more dramatic photo of this, because it just absolutely towers over you. You can’t help but sort of gasp when you see it. It’s quite miraculous.

Portrait of Marie Antoinette

The second thing: Oh, queen of excess. Where is your jewelry? I’ve seen Z-list celebrities wear more bling than that, and you were known for your decidedly grand tastes. Okay, there is a pretty generous pair of pearl earrings, a brooch that tops her feathered hat, and, if you look to the right of the full version of the portrait above, you can see her crown. To be fair, Vigeé-Lebrun had painted numerous portraits of the Queen—many of them featuring more adornments. Bling or not, it felt grand, just by virtue of its presence.


George D Coulon, Spirit of Louisiana, 1894

George D. Coulon (French, 1822–1904), Spirit of Louisiana, 1894

French artist Coulon moved to New Orleans when he was just 10 years old, so I would bet he has an understanding of what the “spirit of Louisiana” really means. This portrait was one of my favorites for the way the pearls are wrapped through this woman’s hair. Maybe it counts as jewelry, maybe it doesn’t; but the pearls were so eye-catching, I had to include it.

 

Circle of Nicolaes Maes, Portrait of a Lady

Nicolaes Maes (Dutch, 1634–1693) Portrait of a Lady, undated

Don’t laugh, but all I saw when I first looked at this painting was Miley Cyrus. (Okay, you can laugh.) The unknown woman in this painting is definitely showing off her wealth, from the pearls around her neck to the large earrings, and the strands artfully wrapped through her hair. I love the way they coil through her tresses, sort of mimicking the curls that hang from under her hat. If it was a contest, pearls won the lot when it comes to appearances in portraiture. But don’t you see the Miley resemblance?

What do you think of these NOMA finds? Do you have a favorite, and would you wear any of these looks today? I definitely would! Oh, and art experts: If you could offer more insight on these pieces, I would love to learn from you. Do share!