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Jeweled Splendors of the Art Deco Era: The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection

Start Date 09 June 2017
End Date 21 January 2018
Venue Cooper Hewitt Museum, Smithsonian Design Museum
Location New York, USA
Exhibition display of jewelled vanity cases

These exquisite jeweled objects highlight the creative and spirited era broadly examined in The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s and showcase the collecting skills of Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan. Both connoisseurs of artistic traditions valued for their intricacy of detail –he for Persian miniatures, she for early books and manuscripts – their eye for complex creations is manifest in these boxes for cigarettes, compacts, and vanity cases, as well as in the jeweled clocks and watches. True “objects of vertu”— luxury objects whose virtuosity of craftsmanship is at least as important as their function —these small compositions incorporate geometric and arabesque motifs in enamel, or exotic scenes from the Far to Middle East in inlaid shell. Designed mostly for women engaged in socially adventurous activities—such as cigarette smoking, going to night clubs, applying makeup in public, or checking the time—they were later collected as works of art more than for use. 
Prince Sadruddin, born in Paris, Harvard educated, multilingual, and multicultural, worked for over 40 years for the United Nations, serving as UN High Commissioner for Refugees for 12 years. A co-founder of the Paris Review and an ardent environmentalist, he was also a great art collector, especially of Islamic Art. This extraordinary and extensive collection, created for his Egyptian-born wife Catherine from 1972 until his death in 2003, has never been exhibited publicly.

Installation image: Jeweled Splendours of the Art Deco Era:The Prince and Princess Sadruddin Aga Khan Collection. Photo by Matt Flynn © 2017 Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.