French Art Glass

The importance of the French contribution to art deco glass and can be gauged by the fact that Rene Lalique – one of the finest designers ever to work in the medium – is considered to have produced pieces that are not the best there were on offer. He was equalled, and often eclipsed, by stunning work from Emile Galle and Daum Freres, Mulller Freres and Schneider who between them elevated French art glass wares to the very highest level.

Initially having taken on the wider Victorian production of cameo glass, the French artists developed the process, adding their own enhancements and creative foibles. The basic premise of cameo glass saw etching techniques used to remove the outer layers of multi-ply glass pieces, revealing the underlying lamina and creating images in relief. Galle was considered the master of this art, but Daum’s craftsmen developed the use of acid etching which enabled them to add texture or varying opacity to their material, and create a new range of products as a result. They also pioneered the use of wheel-ground surfaces, which produced something approaching a hammered or beaten effect, more common on metalwork, which opened yet more opportunities for creativity.

The Great War, unsurprisingly, meant a lengthy hiatus in both production and development, but Daum in particular sprang out of the traps once peace had broken out, and took up their innovative ways once again. Pate de verre was one such modernism, which saw crushed, coloured glass reheated, and used as the initial melt from which new pieces were made which could then be subjected to existing finishing techniques – old skills that gave startling new results when using the reconstituted molten material. At the Christalerie de Nancy – which opened alongside the company’s existing Verrerie in the same town – the preference was to work with brilliantly clear lead crystal, blown in to vases and other vessels, or tooled whilst still molten to produce figurines and sculptural pieces.

Galle had long since set new standard in cameo glassware, introducing decorative bubbles – harking back to the Georgian penchant for air twist stems – and also developing the inclusion of metallic foils as layers in his stratified pieces. With Lalique also producing his signature vases, perfume bottles, glass plaques and later stemware – with his own innovative processes such as the “lost wax” casting process borrowed from his earlier jewellery making expertise – it is evident that France could boast an unsurpassed line up of art glass craftsmen, and its place at the very highest table is beyond refute.

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