Architecture & Design: I'll wear my art on my sleeve

You may never be rich enough to buy a masterpiece, but aesthetically inspired accessories offer affordable artistic souvenirs.
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The Independent Culture
HEAVEN KNOWS what Madame Moitessier would say. Ingres' heavy- lidded beauty, who looks out so impassively from the cover of the National Gallery catalogue, might raise an eyebrow if she knew that she was also available in the exhibition shop as a cut-out paper doll, to be "undressed down to the underwear".

The marketing of masterpieces gets ever more far-fetched. But for those in search of a more subtle tribute to the style of the Second Empire, Janet Fitch's jewellery shops are offering a range of modern designs "in the spirit of" Ingres.

They include garnet and amethyst rings, strings of trailing beads and a dramatic jet tiara. Some of the pieces in copper wirework give a nod towards the details of 19th-century costume. There are bracelets like cuffs and a lacy, beaded choker that evokes the ruff on the chemise worn by Marie Marcoz, the scandalous divorcee who once sat for Ingres in Rome.

None of the Fitch pieces actually looks much like the jewels in the paintings. They are in the same spirit chiefly in being striking statements of the wearer's personality. Ingres took great care with his sitters' dress and accessories. He used them eloquently to express the unmentionable-but- obvious themes of so many of the portraits: money and sex. "Bring ... your bracelets and the long pearl necklace," he told Marie-Clotilde-Ines Moitessier as he was planning her picture. In the end he painted her twice, and the preparatory drawings show him trying out the effects of various pieces, moving them from one portrait to the other.

Most of what he painted was not only valuable, but also fashionable. He rejected one of Mme Moitessier's brooches on the grounds that it was out of date. His sitters were not, for the most part, wearing their family jewels, simply because they were not in a position to. Instead, the smart set of the Second Empire were among the earliest patrons of costume jewellery in the modern sense, pieces valued for their design as much as - or more than - the intrinsic cost of the materials.

Theirs was the age of stylistic revivals. Among the traditional cabochon- cut stones and ropes of pearls, items designed in the Renaissance and Byzantine styles were starting to appear. The Princess Broglie, for example, wore an "early Christian" pendant made by the most innovative contemporary jeweller, Fortunato Castellani. Its deliberate irregularity bespeaks a somewhat daring taste for the primitive.

Perhaps not many of Janet Fitch's customers can hope to achieve the "seductive disorder of shimmering fabrics and jewels of a thousand colours" that Ingres' contemporaries admired in his work. But the portraits offer an ideal, made real in paint. The souvenirs promise a little bit of that to take away.

It is the paradox of merchandising that while people come to see art because it is rare and valuable, they want to go home with something easy and affordable. Hence the terrible bathos of the average British exhibition shop. The Victoria and Albert museum - which as the National Museum of design should know better - shows a relentless determination to plaster everyone from William Morris to Aubrey Beardsley on to a coffee mug.

By comparison, the National Gallery has served Ingres and the public well. There is a silk scarf based on Mme Leblanc's Indian shawl and another like the Lyons silk of Mme Moitessier's dress. But then there are the cut-out dolls - it is hard to believe that anyone who appreciates Ingres won't wince at these poorly drawn figures. Janet Fitch's jewellery may not have much to do with the pictures directly, but it offers the best kind of souvenir, an original in its own way.

Janet Fitch: 0171-287 3789. The National Gallery Shop: 0171-747 2870

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