Barbara Cartlidge (1922 – 2017)

Barbara Cartlidge, esteemed jeweller and co-founder of the renowned Electrum Gallery, passed away peacefully on February 27, 2017 aged 94.   Barbara was born in Berlin, Germany, on September 2, 1922. A member of the Jewish elite, Cartlidge fled Nazi Germany upon finishing school at the age of 16. She sought refuge in Copenhagen in 1938 and three months later relocated to Hampstead, North London.  In London, she became actively involved in the Free German League of Culture, an organisation representing anti-Nazi refugees from Germany irrespective of religion or race. Not only interested in politics but also passionate about the arts and personal style, Cartlidge went on to study jewellery at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts – now known as Central Saint Martins. Her big break, a solo exhibition at Heal’s in 1960, attracted the attention of fashion magazines Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Other important exhibitions in this period included the Jewellery 65 group show at Ewan Phillips Gallery (1965) and Development of Modern Jewellery at Pace Gallery (1969). She also participated in exhibitions at the Arts Centre, Durham, and Musee des Arts Decoratif, Paris. These shows not only wowed the public but were also critically acclaimed, and helped to catapult Cartlidge to the forefront of jewellery design. Barbara also continued her anti-war campaigning, becoming involved in the British Peace Committee, the Anti-Vietnam Movement, and the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam. Electrum Gallery
Electrum Gallery, 1979. Photo: Barbara Cartlidge
In 1971, after collaborating with Ralph Turner at the Pace Gallery, Cartlidge and Turner co-founded Electrum Gallery, the first UK gallery dedicated to international studio jewellery. Based in South Molton Street, the space quickly became one of the most prestigious and influential contemporary galleries in the world, representing established and emerging international jewellery talent.  Electrum was key to placing London at the centre of the contemporary artist jewellery scene worldwide. Cartlidge continued showing throughout Europe – France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland and several UK cities – into the late 70s.  In 1978, Barbara was appointed a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and the City of London. In addition to making jewellery and opening her gallery, Cartlidge was an established author and jewellery historian, known for her jewellery books including Twentieth-Century Jewellery (1974) and Rings through the Ages (1980). She was a well-respected educator, and lectured on the subject of jewellery at Sotheby’s Institute of Art and at Christie’s Education. Work by Barbara was bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum and can be seen in the V&A’s Bollinger Jewellery Exhibition room, alongside work by other contemporary jewellers she helped to introduce at Electrum. Other important public and private collections which hold Barbara’s work include the  Alice and Louis Koch Collection at the Swiss National Museum, Zurich. On her work, the curators of the V&A’s jewellery collection, Richard Edgcumbe and Claire Phillips commented:  

“Barbara stands with the writers, musicians, artists and academics whose vision became one of the transforming elements in post-War Britain. As a jeweller, gallery owner and director, curator, and author, Barbara is celebrated as a prime mover for nearly 50 years in what she described as the “brotherhood of jewellery who make modern and thought-provoking jewellery all over the world”.

Barbara Cartlidge’s  biography, Barbara Cartlidge and Electrum Gallery: A Passion for Jewellery, by Dr Beatriz Chadour-Sampson and Janice Hosegood , launched at Goldsmiths’ Fair last year. Listen to a podcast of the talk given to accompany the exhibition here. See the highlights from the 2016 exhibition at Goldsmiths’ Fair here.

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