British Art Glass - as with many other aspects of life in
these scepter’d isles - mirrors the fact that they were a melting pot of
influences and inspirations brought back home by explorers and adventurers who
travelled to the farthest reaches of the globe over the centuries, looking to
paint another part of the blank cartographic canvas with the red of Empire.
Trade, conquest, expansionism and simple curiosity saw Britain exposed albeit somewhat vicariously to the cultures of other countries from the 16th century onwards, and by the time it had become an industrial powerhouse, production techniques from Europe, North Africa and far beyond had been assimilated in to “British” crafts.
Hence there were aspects of Venetian and Bohemian glassmaking evident in pieces made here from the late 1600’s onwards, and – having honed our own techniques to the point that they at least matched the proficiency of their native practices – it becomes hard to discern what can be categorised as a truly British style.
Renowned in the 19th century as one of our foremost glass production companies, James Powell & Sons – for instance – was turning out paperweights and vases which were every bit as good as the Italian pieces after which they were styled. The Scandinavian preoccupation with naturalistic textures was mirrored years later by Wilson & Baxter – their moulded and hand-worked blown glasswares approximating the Nordic oeuvre.
Other producers of paperweights and vases – Bacchus of Birmingham, for instance – followed the Bohemian fancy for elaborately hand-worked rims, coloured casings and intricate applique decorations which was itself an echo of the Venetian originals.
Cameo glass, so perfectly executed by the French – also made in Stourbridge, West Midlands – perhaps lacking the artisan caché of Nancy and the Moselle ? And ultimately Mdina Glass, once based in Malta in the Mediterranean, moved lock, stock and barrel to that bastion of British indefatigability in the face of the driving rain of our traditional high summer, the Isle of Wight.
Perhaps the best known “British” Art Glass manufacturers, based in various locations across Scotland throughout the 20th century, were wholly founded on the endeavours of Spaniards – the Ysart family – whose machinations gave us Monart, Ysart, Vasart and ultimately Strathearn amongst the litany of “home grown” talents. Their abstract designs with their distinctive swirling, fluidic and sometimes almost fluorescent colour schemes are some of the most striking and recognisable Art Glass pieces you may come across – but unequivocally British in the truest sense of the word – that’s another matter…