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Gemstone Carpet and Elven Brooches from Medieval Jeweler: Sybil Dunlop
Gemstone Carpet and Elven Brooches from Medieval Jeweler: Sybil Dunlop

Sybil Dunlop's jewelry looks like aliens from the distant past. In them one can imagine aristocrats of bygone eras or heroines of ancient legends, but she created her elven brooches on the eve of World War II … The creations of her hands fascinate, but disappointingly little is known about Sybil Dunlop herself. What do we know about a female jeweler who could make jewelry for Queen Guinevere?

She really is a "guest from the past"

Sybil Dunlop's jewelry in medieval style

I must say, Dunlop really did not live in her era. Art critics classify her as a representative of the Arts and Crafts Movement. This artistic movement originated in Great Britain in the middle of the 19th century, in those glorious days when the industrial revolution was gaining momentum, factories were smoked, trains rumbled, ugly and frightening … New-born industrial production seemed to bring only disappointment - ugly things, monstrous working conditions reality, smothering smog. The artists (mostly close to the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood), confronting the horror of reality, decided to create things themselves - truly beautiful. They borrowed craft technologies known from the Middle Ages, sought to return to the way of life of medieval artisans, and the imagery of their works inspired thoughts about the life of King Arthur … or elves from ancient legends. Floral ornaments, simplicity and sophistication, manual labor, motives of bygone times … All this is quite applicable to the works of Sybil Dunlop.

Necklace with pendants created by Sybil Dunlop

However, she was born in 1889 - just a few years before the appearance of exquisite Art Nouveau with its curvilinear forms, and worked in those years when other jewelers glorified the speed, dynamics and aggression of Art Deco. Although guilds and communities that followed the principles of the Arts and Crafts Movement officially existed from the 1870s to the 1910s, some researchers consider Arts & Crafts not only a style that brings together the work of several art groups, but also a distinct design philosophy. In Europe, such "romantic" movements in art ceased to exist after the Second World War, but in the UK, followers of the "Arts and Crafts Movement" could be found until the 1970s. And few people in jewelery have shared this ideology with the passion that Sybil Dunlop has.

She is often confused with another artist - Dorrie Nossiter

Brooches Sybil Dunlop

Dunlop jewelry was practically not labeled or signed, so they are usually attributed according to the original boxes - or they suggest authorship, based on the peculiarities of the style. Due to the complexity of attribution, misunderstandings often occur, for example, Dunlop's work is often confused with Dorry Nossiter's jewelry. Both of them studied in Brussels at about the same time, worked in the same period, and the things they created are very similar - the same large forms, ornamental stones, silver, plant motifs, eclecticism and historicism … However, Nossiter has always gravitated towards the flowing and ornate forms of Art Nouveau, while Dunlop created more rigorous jewelry, inspired by the Celtic Middle Ages. If Sybil Dunlop's brooches would be willingly tried on by the wife of King Arthur, then Nossiter worked more for real fairies and dryads.

Her talent was ruined by the Second World War

Sybil Dunlop's jewelry was created from 1920 to 1939

Almost all of the works of the jewelry brand, created with the participation of Sybil, appeared in the 1920s and 1930s - it is known, for example, that she opened her own studio in London around 1920. According to the memoirs of contemporaries, she, dressed very extravagantly - in a caftan of medieval cut and fur boots - led the workshop confidently and decisively. She entrusted the bookkeeping to a former nurse whom everyone called "Nanny Frost." A few years after the opening, four craftsmen were already working under the leadership of Sybil, and the best of them was the silversmith William Nathanson. In addition to jewelry, the workshop also produced silver spoons and even crockery. Sybil trusted only Swiss and German workshops, known for their unsurpassed quality of work, to cut stones.

Brooch with plant motifs and moonstone Dunlop workshop rings

With the outbreak of World War II, the Dunlop workshop temporarily ceased to exist. Temporarily because after the war, William Nathanson, who served in the fire brigade, returned to work and ran the Dunlop jewelry brand until the 1970s. But… already without Sybil. She was destined to live for many more years, but she could no longer do what she loved because of serious health problems, aggravated during the war years. William Nathanson's style was different from that of Sybil, although he used her typical techniques and images, her favorite materials and some historical techniques - for example, Renaissance enamels. Still, his jewelry was devoid of the old charm that characterized the work of Sybil Dunlop, and looked more modern. Of course, Dunlop jewelry from the 1920s and 1930s is of the greatest value to collectors.

Her main masterpiece is a "carpet of precious stones"

Bracelets made of precious stones carpet technique

Sybil Dunlop came up with a special technique for creating jewelry, reminiscent of Byzantine mosaics or stained glass. Stones of a specific cut of unusual shapes - crescents, triangles, chevrons, claws - were set in cells with thin silver partitions. Thus, they were attached very close to each other, which gave the impression of a real placer of precious stones (most of which, nevertheless, were semiprecious and ornamental - chalcedony, chrysoprase, moonstone, amethyst, agate, quartz and opals).

On the left is a brooch with crescent-shaped stones Jewelry in the technique of carpet from stones

By the mid-1930s, the "carpet of precious stones" began to be used in the manufacture of wide bracelets, necklaces, brooches. Naturally, many jewelers have adopted this technique, and when it is not possible to clearly attribute the authorship of a piece with a "carpet of precious stones", it is described as "made in the style of Dunlop." Dunlop products, studded with stones of various shapes and sizes, are now being auctioned off for five-figure sums.

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