Due to their natural beauty and majestic posture, big cats have always been an inexhaustible source of inspiration for artists, sculptors and jewelers. The panther seemed to be a mythical, fictional creature for medieval Europeans. And despite their very aggressive nature, a big cat was considered to be a friend of all animals, except the dragon. The bestiaries of the time pointed out that the dragon that heard her roar hid in caves and froze in fear.
La Panthère and Europe
Until the beginning of World War I, panthers were rarely featured in European archival records. The first mention of them refers to 1479. Then Ercole I d’Este, Duke of Modena, Ferrara and Reggio Emilia, presented an exotic kitten as a gift to the French king, Louis XI. In the 16th-17th centuries, because of its exquisite color, leopard skin became coveted by trophy hunters. During ceremonies and processions they were demonstrated as a symbol of power, strength and courage. That changed only in the 18th century in connection with the strengthening relations of Europe with the New World and the development of sentimentalism, headed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Since then the leopard and panther (differing only by the color of their fur) were associated with the innocence and purity of wildlife.
The Lady with Panther
By the beginning of the 20th century, the “Lady with Panther” became a favorite motif in European art. It was like the unicorn in the Middle-ages. The most significant works of this period were pictures by two Belgian artists. The first one is “La Caresse” (1896), by symbolist Fernand Khnopff. The second one is the “Femme devenu Panthère” (1919), by Walter Sauer. A huge influence was also provided by Elsie de Wolfe, an American interior designer. She often used the exotic skins of these animals in her works. Women sought to emulate graceful predators. Some were dressed in leopard fur; others decorated the interior of their homes with the skins of big cats, while some kept exotic predators as pets, and even appeared with them in society.
La Panthère de Cartier
In 1918, the House of Cartier got a new figure — the designer Jeanne Toussaint, named “La Panthère”, for her excellent taste and a passion for “cat” prints. She was a shining example of a modern woman. A woman who used her talents for the benefit of personal independence.
Taking the ornament of “panther skin”, invented by Louis Cartier in 1914, Toussaint created a precious kingdom of predatory cats. Their adherents, since 1940, became the most influential of fashion figures of the time. The Duchess of Windsor, Barbara Hutton and Nina Dyer were but a few.
For a more realistic image of these animals in the medium of metal, Peter Lemarchand, Jeanne’s assistant, spent hours watching them in a Paris zoo. Then he transcribed them into a jewelry sketch. It is not surprising that the demand for such jewelry has not reduced. Two years ago La Panthère de Cartier celebrated a centenary. And it seems like just the beginning of her long story!