Art Glass may at first glance seem to be – as a movement –
an anathema to the antiquarian enthusiast who more normally champions the most
alluring property of glassware as being its inherent usability, as distinct
from being made purely for ornamental or aesthetic purposes. How often have we
ourselves said that a glass should be used, regardless of age, for it to be
properly enjoyed! It cannot, however, be dismissed as a frippery by anyone who
understands the processes involved in the manufacturing or decorative processes
involved in its production, as it in some instances, examples of Art Glass
exhibit either a radical, innovative departure from the norm, or the ultimate
use of traditional techniques purely to provide an end product intended to look
Glassware has obviously always been decorated in many different ways, but the expressive and expansive use and combination of colour and form really came to the fore in Victorian times alongside the development of a greater diversity of manufacturing techniques. The application of cutting and engraving – almost to excess at times – and the growing use of colouration and variation in opacity throughout the 19th century gave the impetus to the production of items which were designed solely to be looked at and admired rather than simply having a purely utilitarian purpose, and so the stage was set for glassmakers far and wide to take a step back from the day to day manufacture of commonplace items and to utilise their skills both new and old to make items which best exhibited their talents – objects d’art in their own right.
As with every other aspect of society during the 1800’s, improved communication and transport links meant that new ideas and techniques spread like wildfire, and by the turn of the century there were individual centres of glassmaking excellence throughout Europe. These were both inspired by new influences from far and wide, and by existing skills and crafts which had underpinned glass production in a specific region over the preceding centuries. Although the continued employment of these local techniques ensured that each manufacturing centre was able to retain its own distinctive style there was an explosion of new processing techniques, metal additives for colouration and true artistic creativity. Glass had become a true artistic medium.