Hakone museum displays the true genius of Lalique’s glasswork


An inspirational new attraction is coming to Hakone, the highland resort in Kanagawa Prefecture renowned as a stomping ground for the rich and famous. In addition to its luxury hotels and ryokan, the curative powers of its spa water and astoundingly beautiful scenery, Hakone will soon offer another attraction — a new museum housing Japan’s most extensive collection of Rene Lalique, the legend of jewelry and glass design.

Situated in the unspoiled Sengokuhara Heights area, the Lalique Museum, Hakone, which opens March 19, covers the entire oeuvre of the French artist, from jewelry and glassworks to interior decoration.

Lalique occupies a unique position in the history of art, having bridged the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was also greatly influenced by the aesthetic cult of Japonisme, which had a great impact on European design at the end of the 19th century.

Lalique began his career as a jewelry designer, but unlike traditional jewelers who were dependent on precious gems such as diamonds and rubies, Lalique used a wide variety of materials, including semiprecious stones and cloisonne, prioritizing stunning design rather than extravagant materials. His decorative arts are characterized by innovative carving and influenced by modern sculptors such as Auguste Rodin. This venerated creator later broadened the scope of his work to encompass glasswork and architectural interior ornamentation, many fine examples of which are displayed at the new museum.

Nestled in 13,000 sq. meters of unspoiled greenery, the unobtrusive structure complements the tranquillity of Hakone with its three low-rise buildings: a two-story museum building, a shop and a restaurant.

“We are so glad that we can open a museum dedicated to Rene Lalique in Hakone which preserves the area’s luscious natural surroundings,” said Kazuyasu Hata, director of the museum. “This serene environment is a perfect location for the display of artworks by Lalique, who was greatly inspired by nature for his designs.”

The new attraction’s most distinguishing feature is its interior and the way artworks are displayed. Transcending artistic time periods or national borders, the exhibits are arranged according to various themes. Each item is reverentially displayed in its own luxurious case or in spacious exhibition areas, so that visitors can take their time to appreciate them. The entire space, from overall design to the smallest detail, is modeled on the kind of environment Lalique inhabited, transporting the viewer into a 19th-century Parisian salon.

Upon arriving at the museum, the first thing that catches the eye is a classic Bugatti car fitted with a “Dragonfly” mascot designed by Lalique. The entrance is reached by strolling through an exquisitely manicured garden. Venture inside to be wowed by “Bouquet,” a decorative panel originally intended for a mantelpiece; “Hunting,” a magnificent chandelier; and glass panels embedded in the pillars titled “Roses and Poppies.”

Inside the museum, a total of 230 artworks are exhibited, selected from its collection of 1,500. The first floor is divided into five spaces, including Salon de Sarah, dedicated to French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who was a great Lalique fan. There is also a re-creation of Lalique’s workroom, where his stationary and design sketches are displayed, and also a space titled Belle Epoque, which reveals how the upper-class lived in Paris in the late 19th century.

A room dedicated to Lalique’s perfume-bottle designs is one of the most spectacular parts of the new museum. His fascination with the medium was sparked in 1907 when perfumery Coty asked him to design an eau de toilette bottle. Over the years, Lalique applied the skills he had acquired as a jeweler to elevate glasswork to the realm of art.

Lalique expanded into architecture after designing his own residence and showroom at Cours-la-Reine in Paris in 1902. The second floor features many of his important architectural interior ornament designs, including a small octagonal shaped room titled “Sparrows,” which is composed of 70 decorative glass panels of sparrows installed on the walls.

The permanent exhibits — notably precious jewelry and works in glass, including vases and ashtrays — represent the most advanced quality and technology available in Lalique’s era. Jewelry pieces characteristic of his oeuvre include “Sylphide,” a brooch depicting a fairy with a woman’s body and the wings of a butterfly, and “Woman with Flowing Hair,” a brooch that incorporates the flowing lines of a woman’s tresses. Among the most important glassworks here are “Three Swallows,” a perfume bottle, the design of which is said to be inspired by the handguard of a Japanese sword, and “Whirlwind,” a vase held to be one of the masterpieces of the Art Deco movement.

Also located on the second floor is a special exhibition room, which for the first six months of the museum’s life, will hold an exhibition of Lalique pieces that were influenced by Japonisme. The room is furnished with comfortable couches so that visitors can relax and take a rest while surrounded by enchanting works of art.

At the end of the hall is a museum shop where Lalique-related products, such as postcards, books and costume jewelry are available.

All the best museums have a good restaurant, and the Lalique Museum is no exception. Lys, the cafe-restaurant attached to the museum, offers French cuisine in a casual atmosphere. As three sides of the cafe are made of glass, visitors can enjoy spectacular views all year round. Lys is surrounded by over 20 meters of keyaki (zelkova) trees, and in fair weather the restaurant’s outside terrace is the perfect place to enjoy Hakone’s fresh mountain air and bask in the sunshine streaming through the trees.

Hidetoshi Ushimaru, former executive chef at Westin Tokyo, is the engineer of the eclectic menu here. He creates dishes that are both aesthetically pleasing and gastronomically satisfying, and he makes optimum use of local produce, including fish from Sagami Bay.

The cafe-restaurant offers not only delicious meals but also art. Here, a saloon wagon of the Co^te d’Azur Express, which later served as a saloon car of the Orient Express in Europe, is displayed as a special exhibition. (If you make a reservation, you can see its decorative glass panels, “Figurines and Grapes,” designed by Lalique, but an additional charge is required.)

Adjacent to the cafe-restaurant is Passage, a shop named after the arcade-style passages that defined Paris in Lalique’s day. The shop offers more than 3,000 kinds of household goods selected from the domestic and world markets, so one cannot fail to find a suitable souvenir.