The vivid and contrasting colours of tango glass were reproduced by a wide range of glassmakers across (predominantly) central Europe in the first decades of the 20th century, with certain designers making a name for themselves having conceived pieces which were then manufactured by several different companies.

One of such draughtsman of itinerant renown was Michael Powolny, Austrian-born in 1871. Initially apprenticed as a potter by his father, he studied for a further decade in the Moravian town of Znojmo and then in the more staid surroundings of the Viennese School of Applied Arts.

Powolny would eventually end up teaching at the Viennese establishment, whilst at the same time administering the Wiener Keramik Workshop with Bertold Löffler – another designer, who ushered his partner away from the creation of physical representations of his ideals and towards a strictly two-dimensional mode of creativity. Hence, Powolny committed many of his designs to paper, and it was these which were to find their way in to the pattern books of several different glasshouses and potteries.

The company with whom he has become most associated is the Loetz manufactory, but this seems to have been the result of a rather cavalier attitude to the labelling of style, source and designer in the 1920’s and 30’s. Powolny did relatively few designs exclusively for Loetz, and a great many pieces attributed to the one or other of the pair were incorrectly labelled with a significant number having nothing to do with either party.

The truth of the matter is that Powolny designed a range of eight vases for an exhibition in Cologne (1914), and that Loetz subsequently used the shape of these vases as the basis for many of their signature Tango pieces; just one, perhaps two, of this original octet – produced by Loetz - used the classic bright orange and black colour combination , the rest being of a white opalescent colour with black or blue ‘pinstripe’ decorations, but the association between the two had now been indelibly made and would persist for decades afterwards, providing the potential for many unwary purchasers to pay over the odds for wrongly-listed items, whether the mistake was entirely innocent or otherwise.

There was a very limited range of Loetz/Powolny glass made immediately after the end of the Great War – two tango pieces, along with some very striking opalescent/clear vases – all of which were commissioned by the Lobmeyr company; these and the Cologne originals are very much sought after by collectors – and the pursuit of these is probably best left to the real experts…

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