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France's Fantastic Glass

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Although ancient glass factories have been excavated at Poitou, Lyons, Marne, and Vendee in France, and there is evidence of some glassmaking in the twelfth century, the trail is quite dim until somewhat later. "In the thirteenth century glass-working became general in France, and in the fourteenth century it already constituted a regular industry; the use of glass for table utensils was common enough in St. Louis's time to allow drinking-vases to be known under the name of `glasses' no matter of what they were made." (From Medieval Manners, Cluny Museum, by Edmond Haraucourt). In the fifteenth century Venice and Altare glassworkers were welcomed into French factories where they were at home in imitating the Italian gilt and enamelled ware and other Venetian favorites.

The sixteenth century produced little French glass of artistic merit other than some enamelled ware and figurines from the Nevers works. The year 1665 witnessed the founding of the St. Gobian works.

Eighteenth century France was absorbed more with her industrial flat glass than with tableware and decorative glass, but with the general nineteenth century glass revival, T. J. Broccard led the way for France with his Mohammedan glass and other imitations; especially enamelled and colored glass, and the sixteenth century German goblets. Following him were the three artists: E. Rousseau, Galle, and Leveille. Rousseau (1827-1891) was noted for his use of opaque ornaments on transparent colored glass; the significance of Leveille centered around his furtherance of the traditions and ideas of Rousseau; and the great master Emile Galle (1846-1904) will always be remembered for his ceaseless experimentation and adaptation of art principles to glass. These artists made France conscious of fine glass and its possibilities. Galle's first accomplishment was transparent colored glass; then some individualistic engraving; in 1897 acid etching on laminated, multicolored opaque glass; and then much experimentation with pate de verre (paste glass). Though his designs and shapes at times were excellent, Galle's real contributions were in the fields of materials and ingredients.

The plastic glass process which lay hidden for centuries was rediscovered by Henri Cros about 1901. After much experimenting he achieved success by firing powdered cul lett (bits of broken glass) in a refractory mold of fireclay which resulted in complete fusion. Although some table glass and other small pieces were produced, his lasting work with paste glass was the great decorative bas relief s and other more or less sculptural works.

The next great step in plastic glass was made about 1920 by Francois Decorchemont, who produced the first hard, translucent plastic glass. His translucent, richly colored vases, bowls and the like have alluring velvety surfaces and depth of colorings seldom found in blown glass.

Often the work of Albert Dammouse is termed pate de verre, but for the most part it is actually an enamel paste. Confusion arises from the fact that he almost achieved trans parency in his very diaphanous porcelain. However, Dammouse's work usually is considered glass and as such is unique and captivating. M. Walters of Nancy is also an exponent of plastic glass.

Inherent limitations of this plastic glass, however, thwarted any chance of its supplanting blown glass, either as a working medium for artists or as a finished product, as far as tableware or decorative glass were concerned. M. Marmot, the next French artist of importance, worked with blown glass, following and improving upon the procedures of Rousseau, Leveille, and GAIL Marinot was designer, maker, and decorator of most of his best pieces. Handling the blowpipe personally, often in the very door of his furnace, he produced new and lovely things in glass. Prior to 1912, when he dropped painting for glass, his interests centered around colors; vivid opaques or clear glass with usually some decorative flowers, birds, or feminine heads. Then he turned to very thick walled glass, which opened up new possibilities in decoration. He cut and etched unusually bold relief designs and often incorporated secondary spreading color pigments within the body of the glass; and his use of bubbles in controlled designs was indeed a novelty.

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