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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Glass Makers Of Nancy, France

Author: Thelma Shull

( Article orginally published September 1942 by Hobbies )

Modern, fine glassware owes much of its interesting variety to the experiments in the chemistry of colors and methods of engraving and etching first carried on by glass workers at Nancy, France, more than 60 years ago.

During the 15th century, Italian glass blowers emigrated to France, but little glass of importance was made there until after 1870 when Galle, a native of Nancy, led the way in the revival of fancy glass making. As a result of his researches and labors, France became one of the leaders in this industry.

The city of Nancy is located 219 miles east of Paris on the banks of the Meurthe River. It boasts a population of 120,578.

Emile Galle was born in the city of Nancy on May 4, 1846. He learned the rudiments of the art at his father's factory and in 1865 was designing pieces there. Later he went abroad to study other methods of manufacturing, but returned to his home town and established his own glass factory when he was 28 years old. His assistants, some of whom later became famous after establishing their own plants, were trained under his tutelage and shared with him the secrets of his discoveries.

Galle was famous for his technical knowledge as well as his artistic talents. He relied" upon nature for his motifs and named his glass pieces after the plants which inspired their decoration. This new trend in glass making led the glass makers away from the former style of facet cutting into the making of blown or pressed pieces enriched by cameo cutting, etching with acids, etc.

When he exhibited his glass at the Paris Universal Exposition of 1878, he won praises for his unusual productions and became the leader in this glassware. He was awarded a bronze medal for his display.

His first efforts were bent toward securing color in glass without losing its transparency and he succeeded first with blue glass. He named it "Clair de Lune." It proved popular enough to be imitated in both England and Germany. In these countries it was termed Moonlight and Mondschein.

By placing gold-leaf between two layers of clear glass, he obtained a rich brilliance. Still a different lavish effect was obtained by using glass jewels or imitation stones to ornament the pieces. He achieved fine gradations of color by applying successive layers of glass one upon another. By 1889, he announced that he could apply all the colors of the rainbow from vivid orange to a rich, dark purple. He achieved the effect of cameo engraving by means of these superimposed layers of glass.

In cameo cutting, it was necessary to find two or more glass mixtures which had the same degree of shrinkage in cooling or one might crack when the chiseling of the outer layer was begun. Green on black and opaque white on blue were only two of the favorite color combinations used in cameo work at this time.

Galle experimented with thallium and iridium and took advantage of the decorative possibilities of numerous minute bubbles worked into the glass. His handsome individualistic engravings on glass were also a noteworthy success. After perfecting the engraving process, he experimented with acid etching on laminated, multicolored opaque glass and finally with pate de verre, although in this latter method those following him were more successful. This process is based on the use of a glass powder, treated in a ceramic manner. This waa a revival of irlass morkinp, employed by Egyptian glass makers during the reign of the Ptolemies.

He often combined enameling and engraving on the same piece of clear or flint glass. In the Museum of Decorative Arts is a vase with green and black carving in relief against a clear background made about 1884. An Arabian vase with cover, one of his finest pieces, was decorated in arabesque, finely executed. Although he specialized in making unique pieces, he also made some household wares. His workmanship proved him a master of his craft.

His renderings in enamel were so realistic that the dragon fly, one of his favorite motifs, seemed to be caught up within the glass. He used masses of mica or pieces of metallic foil in the body of the glass to achieve some of his most unusual effects.

The following description of Galle's glass is quoted from H. Franz in the Magazine of Art. "Mist and dews half shroud and half reveal the fine veinings and splashings in a grey jadecrystal vase. A thick flushing of rosetinted glass is carved into a chimeralike flower, half influorescent, half smiling, half weary, half orchid, half pansy. A beetle drags its slow length over the rust of the lichens. Side by side with flesh-tints and carnations we see bold touches of coral pink. A pale gleam steals through the dull maze of iridium. Vegetable shadows grin at us. Phantoms of bloom are dimly seen. A fossil shell engraved beneath the fragile work contains the glass worker's signature."

Two of Galle's pupils were the brothers Auguste and Antonin Daum. They were employed by him but later established their own glass works. Engraving and acid etching characterized their work. They made lavish use of gold, yet always with the restraining hand of an artist. Their "Arabian" glass was followed about 1894 by their so-called "Egyptian." Later in the 1890's they imitated Germano-Swiss designs of the Middle Ages. They also applied powdered enamels to molten glass and obtained iridescent effects. Toward the beginning of this century, they began using their flushed process for making colored glass and this was an outstanding success with them. It consisted of layers of glass in varying thicknesses and subtle gradations of color being applied one upon another. It was often engraved to represent cameo carving and was called "jade ceramic." They specialized in ornamental pieces but also made great quantities of glass lamp shades.

Their successor is Paul Daum, who continues the family tradition of hand wrought glass rather than that made by machine processes. He, also, specializes in decorative pieces, with only a small amount of table glass made as a side-line.

Other contemporaries of Galle were F. A. Honer and his son of Nancy. They exhibited religious and fancy stained glass for windows at the Paris Exposition of 1878 and were awarded honorable mention.

A modern glass maker of Nancy is Monsieur Aristide Colotte, who has used his former experience as an engraver to aid him in chiseling out single figures or statues from solid large blocks of pure crystal glass. The Cristalleries de Nancy has been in business there for a little over 10 years and has produced decorative pieces as well as bottles, the latter being their specialty.

Other glass houses at Nancy during the past 10 years have been those of Vessiere and A. Walter. Monsieur Walter (or Walters) is adept at using plastic glass which has a soft, velvety texture. There are also six men whose establishments specialize in making stained glass. These include Bassino, Benoit, Gauville, Geisler, Janin, and Lemoine.

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