Daum Nancy Glass
Nancy is a 1200 year old city in the north east of France, in a region commonly known as Alsace-Lorraine. Always renowned as a centre of learning, it was characterised by the Ecole de Nancy which, during the fin de siècle period, attracted numerous pioneers of the burgeoning Art Nouveau movement to its campus. These included a certain Jean Daum, an administrative clerk born in Bischwiller on the nearby German border in 1825. Daum purchased the city’s existing Sainte-Catherine crystal glass manufactory, primarily after the owners defaulted on loans which he had underwritten, andfortuitously as it would prove, as a project to engage his two sons, Auguste and Antonin.
Having initially balanced the books by continuing the extant production of modest tableware, in 1889 Auguste initiated an “artistic department” intended to drive the development of new product lines. Acid-etching and wheel-engraved pieces, made from cased blanks with two or three coloured layers were the firstinnovations. A local stained-glass maker, Jacques Gruber, was taken on to bolster the creative input, and within a couple of years Daum exhibited at the Chicago World’s Fair, which first prompted wider recognition for the name ofthe firm. Subsequent exhibitions across Europe further enhanced the company’s reputation, and by the mid 1890’s they had their own “school of excellence” to train designers and engravers. Luminaries such as Henri Berge and Emile Writz were at the forefront of this enterprise, and it was their inspirational and creative input which drove Daum’s ground breaking output.
Up to the outbreak of the Great War, Daum produced stunning cameo vases and vessels, acid etched pieces which were then enamelled in black, giving the impression of diamond-point engraving on a coloured base, enamelled cameo glass which had the appearance of the finest porcelain and a great many acid cut-back and carved cameo glass bodies which created stunning designs in relief. Again, these were further enhanced by gilding and enamelling to add real depth to the imagery.
After the enforced hiatus for the war, production picked up under the direction of Auguste’s sons, John, Henry and Paul. They took on board the seismic shift in public tastes away from the naturalistic tendencies which had underscored the Art Nouveau style towards the modernist, innovative tastes which drove the Art Deco movement (initially known as “style modern”). Daum’s ethos shifted to placing more importance on the substance of their glassware over its decoration, and they developed styles of glass which approximated jade, and an extraordinary blue/green vitrified material which enabled them to produce vessels which looked like verdigris-covered, classical metalwork. That’s not to say that decoration was eschewed entirely, but it moved towards being integral to the form of Daum pieces, rather than applied – gold foil inclusions, separately-made sculpted pieces which were then cased applied to underlying layers and the like.
The company scaled great heights in the late 1930’s, being commissioned to create vast suites of glassware to furnish the enormous transatlantic steamships of the day and, on a smaller scale, high end sets for the early and very exclusive airliners which were beginning to capture the imagination of the public.
A fourth generation of Daum’s guided the company through the post-war years in to the 1960’s, and they provided a platform from which Antoine Froissart was able to develop and produce his extraordinarily clear, malleable crystal glass – so brilliant that it appeared to have its own luminosity, even when tinted. The company continues in production to the present day, although no longer with direct family input at a managerial level, but the decades under the guiding hands of successive generations produced such a volume of exceptional glassware that the company is now enshrined on the exclusive Inventaire du patrimoine culturel immatériel en France – a register of the most noteworthy contributors to the “intangible cultural heritage“ of the country, high praise indeed !