The Denver Art Museum’s exhibition, Brilliant: Cartier in the 20th Century, features signature jewels created by the world-famous design house of Cartier. The significance of the show resides not only in the beauty of the magnificent jewels selected for the exhibition, but also in the exceptional degree of craftsmanship required to make each piece. It is not every day that one has the opportunity to experience the singular beauty and artistry of Cartier jewels in person. In a way, being this close to the luxurious jewels has the power to transport one to a different time period. Walking through the exhibition is like walking through history.
Personally, the exhibition has an added element that makes it dear and special to me: the inclusion of María Félix’s fabulous necklaces in the shape of crocodiles, and the one in the shape of a snake. Her presence in Brilliant—if only through her jewels—allows those visitors familiar with the Mexican diva, to reminiscence and reflect on her importance to the golden era of Mexican cinema (1936-1960s).
For those visitors not yet familiar with Félix’s legacy, her jewels are a perfect entry point to learn and imagine about the personality and history of the woman who commissioned such beautiful and extravagant pieces—and the fabulous occasions in which she wore them! (Google Maria Félix and you’ll find numerous videos and images of her.)
About La Doña
María Félix was born on April 8, 1914, in Sonora, Mexico, and died in Mexico City, coincidently on her birthday, in 2002 at the age of 88. Although she lived a large part of her life in France, Mexico was always part of her essence, wherever she went. In turn, her native country never forgot her, as she still has legions of devoted fans and her films continue to be shown to this day.
María Félix is arguably one of the most important icons in Mexican popular culture. She was widely known for her strong personality, both on and off the screen. This aspect of her personality became legendary as the result of her performance in her role of Doña Bárbara in 1943, which was an adaptation from the important novel by Venezuelan writer Rómulo Gallegos, written in 1929. After this film, María Félix would be known as the mythic “La Doña” for the rest of her life. In this famous role, she represented the liberated woman, one who would not submit to anything or anyone, hardly the submissive maiden of previous Mexican genre films.
María Félix was later also known by another nickname, María Bonita. This was the title of a popular song written by the famous Mexican composer and Félix’s second husband, Agustín Lara. Lara had presented her with the song on the occasion of their wedding along with a ruby necklace.
María Félix Inspired Many
Mexico celebrated the 100th anniversary of her birth in 2014 with a series of public events and programming. In Mexico City she was honored at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the library of the national film archives was named after her. María Félix was a woman who inspired many artists. Painters such as Diego Rivera, musicians such as Agustín Lara, poets, and writers created works inspired by her beauty and personality. One also can say that she inspired the house of Cartier to create some of its most imaginative and beautiful pieces. The personality of La Doña was matched by the artistry of Cartier in a magnificent way.
Reminiscing about my adolescence in Mexico City, I remember many occasions when I watched María Félix’s movies at home with my family on the weekends. Now, as I appreciate the jewels that once adorned La Doña, who came to represent the strength of Mexican culture and bravura, and who was an important icon of the golden age of Mexican cinematography, I can say that Brilliant is a wonderful, stellar experience!
Images: Mexican actress María Félix at Le Palace In Paris, France on March 31, 1981. By Bertrand Laforet/Getty Images. Crocodile necklace made as a special order for María Félix. Cartier Paris, special order, 1975. Gold, diamonds, emeralds, rubies; Length 30 cm. and 27.3 cm. Cartier Collection. Photo: Vincent Wulveryck, Cartier Collection © Cartier.