Jean Després was born in 1889 in Souvigny in the Allier. In 1903, he began an apprenticeship as a goldsmith in a workshop in the Marais district of Paris, while at the same time taking drawing and painting classes. He spent his free time in Montmartre at the Bateau-Lavoir artists' residence, where he met and became close to the Cubist group, which included Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani and Georges Braque. The First World War broke out and Jean Després joined the military air force where he was posted as a mechanic. He was soon spotted and hired as a draughtsman in a fighter squadron; this experience had an impact on his future creations in which mechanical elements such as cogs and chains are sometimes found. In 1920, the artist took over the family shop in Avallon in Burgundy and set up his goldsmith and jeweller's workshop in the back room. From 1928 onwards, he exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Décorateurs, the Salon d'Automne and the Salon des Tuileries, and also took part in numerous exhibitions abroad. Jean Després exploited themes from the avant-garde of the 1920s, such as cubism and modernism. His pieces are very popular and express the aesthetics of that time. The main materials used in his work are silver, silver-plated metal and hammered pewter. He favours massive shapes and rejects the use of precious stones in his jewellery. During the Second World War, the trade in precious metals was suspended, but Jean Després continued his activity using poor metals. In 1940, he was appointed president of the Goldsmiths' Union. In 1943, he moved to Paris, rue de la Trémoille and opened a shop at the same address. However, he kept his workshop and shop in Avallon. In addition to creating jewellery and silverware, Jean Després made sports trophies, religious art and, from the 1950s onwards, metal cases for art books. His goldsmith's pieces are entirely handmade and are therefore unique, with highly hammered surfaces that allow a play of light with a multitude of reflections. Jean Després' best-known clients are Ferdinand Léger and Josephine Baker. He continued to produce his hammered works decorated with the motifs he loved until his death in 1980.


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