Eugène Fontenay (1823-1887), son of goldsmith Prosper Fontenay, founded his own workshop on the rue Favart, Paris, in 1847. By the 1850’s he had achieved considerable success, culminating in the execution of a tiara for the Empress Eugénie in 1858. However, it is his work of the 1860s for which he is most renowned. Fontenay’s works in the ‘Archaeological’ style were influenced by ancient Greek, Roman, and Etruscan examples, and were certainly inspired by the 1860 arrival in Paris of the Campana Collection of ancient jewellery purchased by Napoleon III and subsequently publicly exhibited at the Louvre.
Fontenay was a founding member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Bijouterie-Joaillerie-Orfèvrerie in Paris and was awarded the cross of the Légion d’Honneur as a member of the jury at the Vienna exhibition in 1873 as a result of his masterly Report on the goldsmiths’ and silversmiths’ work. In 1882, Fontenay retired and devoted his time to publishing numerous articles on jewellery, as well as working on his masterpiece,
Les Bijoux Anciens et Modernes, published posthumously in 1887.
Henri Vever in his extensive work French Jewelry of the 19th Century, described Fontenay as a “man of distinction and rare intelligence, of great discernment and impeccable taste. A true artist and a distinguished writer, he handled a pen as skilfully as a paint brush.”