A WINTER WONDERLAND IN GLASS AND PRECIOUS METALS
Far be it from me to decry the benefits of double glazing and central heating but – now that the frosty mornings are with us – I do sometimes think that there’s a little bit of magic that we tend to miss out on nowadays. Those of a certain age – myself included – will remember a time before smart thermostats and sealed UPVC glazing units when winter days would start with frost on your bedroom windows - on the inside !
Having struggled to replace my pyjamas with outdoor clothes by writhing underneath a stack of pastel-striped winceyette sheets and woollen blankets, I’d often take some time to marvel at the delicacy of the frosty fronds – inconceivably intricate patterns that would captivate me – until I was shouted downstairs for my porridge, or bacon throdkin if I was lucky…
It strikes me that this frost must, to some extent, have inspired some of the artists responsible for creating artefacts that we cherish today. Filigree, tracery, piqué – call it what you will – but there are countless examples of extremely delicate decorative effects that have been applied to many different pieces. That’s not to mention the ‘frosted glass’ finishes that replicate the wider effect by way of glass which has had its surface or substance treated to change its degree of translucence.
Regular readers will know where I’m going with this, as my absolute favourite glass artist – the French master-craftsman René Lalique – perfected the control of glass opacity and used it to marvellous effect in many of his signature pieces. He was able to take molten glass and mould and patinate it to create pieces decorated with bunches of mistletoe or ivy with frost-fringed leaves, deer in wintery forest scenes and many other seasonal pieces.
Glass as a medium also lends itself to the depiction of ice, and Lalique ice-buckets that are seemingly made of – well – ice are some of his very best works. Some examples have been given a blue luster to replicate the extraordinary colour that can be seen in glacial ice.
Similarly, artists such as Emile Gallé and Charles Legras would use coloured, acid-etched cameo glass to create winter scenes, but rather than the detail which Lalique would explore, they’d paint a broader picture of snow-covered landscapes. This type of work often featured what I consider to be one the most masterful representations of the natural world in glass, as varying degrees of opacity alongside subtle colouration creates the most marvellous depictions of leaden, wintery skies which have such a lambent – if rather brooding – degree of luminescence.
Artisans other than these highly-skilled French exponents of their craft would work on a far smaller scale, with fretwork or pinned piqué embelishments in precious metals affixed to snuff-boxes, vestas or vinaigrettes – harking back to those almost fractal matrices of fine-spun, frosty gauze.
So, from the finest tracery to the most expansive of sky-scapes, craftsmen have taken their lead from the depths of winter to create some remarkable works of art; we have many examples on display – and for sale – down at the Corn Exchange, so please feel free to wrap up warm and pay us a visit (or save a trip out and take a look on-line at scottishantiques.com)