A METAPHORICAL MEANDER through European Art Glass (part two)
Moser, Salviati, Venini, Murano, Val St Lambert...to name a few
Right – gird your loins, tighten your lederhosen, contemplate various peculiarly pickled seabirds and pull your sciarpa tifosi up over the bottom half of your face to avoid identification – it’s time for our second wander along the autostrade and durchwechseln of European art glass.
Austrian and German art glass denominations have become a little confused over the years as a result of the shifting geographical borders throughout central Europe, but purists may like to adhere to the original conventions for clarity, and as a reflection of historical precedent.
An example would be Ludwig Moser & Sons, founded in 1857 in the town of Karslbad which had existed under German and Austrian rule for the majority of its history before being designated part of the Czech Republic in successive post-WWII treaties, border tweaks and resettlements.
Moser’s production lines initially existed purely as finishing facilities for glass blanks acquired from throughout Bohemia – material from Johann Loetz, for instance, was polished and engraved there. It was not until the latter part of the 19th century that a production facility was created which was soon turning out very high quality cut glass, mainly for the use of the Emperor of Austria himself. England’s King Edward VII was to become another customer of regal provenance, and the company’s renown spread far and wide. A broader clientele prompted departures from existing stylistic guidelines, and coloured art glass bowls, vases, stemware and decanters soon augmented the product catalogue.
A contemporary of Moser and Loetz was Daniel Swarovski who, having served a brief apprenticeship at his father’s factory, set up his own facility at Wattens in the Austrian Tyrol. This took advantage of the precipitous nature of the surrounding mountainous countryside by installing hydroelectric generators, which provided the power behind intensive grinding processes which enabled the production of extraordinarily complicated cut glass pieces. Swarovski enhanced the refractive qualities of his multi-faceted pieces by incorporating metallic foils – and later, chemical coatings – which produced a stunning range of increasingly brilliant diamond-like effects.
Fritz Lampl and Joseph Berger produced a similar range of figurines as did Swarovski, under the name of Bimini and in a more classical art glass style with the use of drawn trumpet vases incorporating twisted enamelled glass straws and whole-coloured stemware of delicate green or blue colouration. Lauscha Glass from Theuringia in Germany replicated this Bimini style, extending its used to less decorative, more utilitarian products such as candy-coloured knife rests and cocktail stick holders. The Freidrich, Oberglas and Ingrid glasshouses all tended to produce vases of a more geometric nature, featuring textured, roughened surfaces and generally muted, somewhat earthen colouring (with the odd startling orange or bright green exception), and the abstract designs of Walther & Düsterhaus complete the roll call of the region’s primary art glass producers with their predominantly clear pieces shot through with bright splashes of colour.
If ever a region was going to be recognised as a centre for the creation of decorative glassware produced to the most exacting of standards, then it was going to be Italy – and Venice in particular – home of some of the most exquisitely fabricated pieces borne from a 500 year history of expertise and craftsmanship.
Some notable producers of 20th century art glass can trace their roots back through the twists and turns of an industry dating to the renaissance, with Ercole Barovier being one such figure. While traditional Murano glass is perhaps known for its flamboyant form, with serpentine adornments and decorative threads approaching the fineness of filigree wirework and arabesques, more modern Italian Art Glass such as that created by workmen under Barovier’s stewardship shows more of a tendency towards stunning decoration being applied to surfaces rather than elaborate structure.
Zecchini, for instance, is renowned for his creation of “murrine” mosaic-like patterns on the sides of vases or the face of plates and dishes. Textured rather than simply flat surfaces were also explored, with “lenti” pieces using the lenticular nature of facetted glass to produce stunning refractive effects, and vases made to approximate wicker or basketweave cane patterns were also popular.
Vetri d’Arte and Salviati were the two firms who led Italian glass production through the heady days of the 1930’s and beyond as the art glass movement gathered momentum. The use of distorted forms and shapes was their forte, but the use of surface decoration was also writ large in their portfolio, with the faces of many pieces assuming the role of canvases for the reproduction of extravagantly coloured designs encompassing the abstract and impressionistic aesthetic of mid-century modern art.
Post-war, Paolo Venini’s manufactory came to the fore, using innovative sommerso and inciso techniques to produce some stunning vases which gave the impression of being illuminated from inside. Similar methods were used by later designers such as Gio Ponti to produce pieces which featured the apparently seamless transition from one colour to another as their main facet – graduations which seemed to shift and flow depending on the perspective from which you looked at the piece. Such subtleties would, though, make an abrupt counterpoint to other more strident explorations of colour which tended towards modernistic, pop-art themes – brash stripes, patchworks, checkerboards and polkadots, and pieces made from compressed, coloured canes, interwoven broader strands and fused panels of smooth or textured glass.
Never having been regarded a particularly notable source of classical glassware, the countries bordering the Baltic Sea embraced the growth in popularity of the Art Glass movement which mushroomed alongside the wider awaking of Scandinavian design ideas. Essentially simplistic shapes with echoes of a more traditional balance of form and function, the blues and whites of clear skies and snowfields are common themes in pieces from the region, tinged with the greens of the great coniferous forests which shroud the mountains and occasional splashes of volcanic reds and oranges.
Of all the Nordic countries, it was Sweden which was to the fore in glass production, simply because it was generally the most affluent and stable area, and there was more scope for the population to undertake and explore artistic endeavours.
The Swedes led from the front, pioneering methods of producing blown and cased glassware, while specific manufacturers became known for carved and cut wares. Ohrstrom, Lindstrand, Ernest Gordon and Bergqvist are all eminently collectable practitioners of Sweden’s glass arts.
Embracing other aspects of design, Swedish glass artists were just as likely to be known for creativity with ceramics, textiles and paintings as they were for their vitreous endeavours alone, and the flair and renown for their production of housewares in general was to become a recognised national trait.
Elsewhere, the Finns excelled in the creation of blown glass items, particularly in the 1950’s and 60’s when they embraced pop art culture with a somewhat incongruous free spirit. Wirkkala and Sarpaneva separately developed a range including vases, candlesticks and jugs, all which bore a rugged, textural hallmark redolent of their own country’s more readily acknowledged somewhat bluff and unyielding persona, and the peculiarly Danish fancy for working with plastics was reflected by Holmegaard & Co’s production of bright, colourful blown-glass pieces that resembled the synthetic material.
As with any popular creative movement, art glass production was not restricted to a few centres of excellence, and craftsmen were moved to be led by its influences at diverse locations across continental Europe.
The Low Countries proved particularly fertile ground. Floris Meydam, Andreis Copier and their cohorts produced many pieces at the Leerdam Glasfabriek factory under the direction of P M Cochius, where the predilection was for heavy, thick set pieces. Readily identifiable pieces include substantial ash trays and vases made in abstract shapes from black or dark grey glass; these are invariably decorated with the deliberate inclusion of air bubbles to give contrasting highlights. Meydam also favoured a combination of blue, green and white colouring for smoothly contoured but still sturdy pieces.
More colourful were the items made in Maastricht at the Kristalunie factory. Jacob Rozendaal was the leading designer in Limburg for nearly two decades, producing optic vases, stemware, cut glass and utilitarian domestic products before moving to The Hague in the late 1930’s. In later years Max Verboeket took over Rozendaal’s role, evolving the house style of whole-coloured, iridescent pieces in to more the more subtly coloured Carneval stemware range and the lighter composition of Anraclet and Tarantella vases. He also introduced the Antique range in the early 60’s, with pieces based on Roman and Etruscan designs, many of which were made in a distinctive emerald green colour and showed the influence of earlier Leerdam material made by Meydam.
Over the border in Belgium the Royal Belgian Glassworks of Val Saint Lambert in Seraing was producing classically styled vases from flashed and cut glass that echoed English Victorian wares in their use of cranberry, amber and pale green and blue colouring, but given a modern twist with the use of unconventionally shaped facets, slices and ground features. The Durobor Company in Soignies made many pieces of contemporary clear crystal stemware and tumblers from the 1920’s onward.
To the east, Tarnowiec in Silesia, Poland was the source for a wide range of art glass vessels. Conventional shapes and forms were given a modern twist with the use of abstract decorative patterns from bold primary colours through marbled transitions to simplistic black and white pieces which were particularly effective on lipped vases.
And finally Romania, where Mihai Topescu and Ion Tamaian were the leading lights of the movement right up to the latter part of the 20th century, producing avant garde sculpted pieces from a signature palette of bold colours and strident patterns reminiscent of Gio Ponti’s post-war Italian wares with their brash, pop-art temperament.
So, almost wherever you care to look across Europe, exponents of art glass creativity were held in thrall by the opportunities granted to them by its inherent freedom of expression, and as a group produced a significant, sometimes striking and always collectable canon of work.
And there you have it – the main centres of 20th century European art glass in a nutshell, and proof that there is more to Scottish Antiques than just a fascination with English crystal pieces; follow the link below for our website’s catalogue of art glass material…
for more articles about European glass and porcelain, check the following links: