Glass Art and Ceramic Art

Western European Glass Art and Ceramic Art

Western European glassmaking art on the cusp of the 19th -20th centuries is a significant and multifaceted phenomenon that had a great impact on the formation of visual aesthetics of the upcoming century. Its heyday coincided with the period of the Art Nouveau and the subsequent Art Deco styles domination. France became the center of Glass art manufacturing. Since the last quarter of the 19th century and up to the 1930s, French art glass manufacturing was experiencing the unprecedented boom. Technological innovations, new stylistic discoveries, vast variety of techniques, and the most important - investigations of the gifted art glass artisans that were working in France in this period, such as A. Kroc, F. Decorshamon, G. Arzhi-Rousseau, Emil Galle, Brothers Daum, Rene Lalique, made the country the trendsetter in the sphere of art glass production.


The heyday of art glassmaking coincided with the period of the dominance of the Art Nouveau style, which was developed in the 1880s. Numerous definitions of еру style that appeared at the end of the 19the century - “Modern Style”, “Style Inglese”, and “Glasgow Style” indicate the alleged place of its origin, which is considered the United Kingdom. The 1900 Paris Exposition brought these names to several, the most common: “Art Nouveau” and “Style 1900” in France, Belgium and the USA, “Jugendstil” in Germany, “Seccession in Austria, “Art Nouveau” in Russia.

The search for a new expressive language in all areas of applied art, embodied at the end of the 19th century in the artistic images of Art Nouveau, begins with the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London in 1851. And although it did not show any upsurge in the art glass making, its significance was huge, as it stimulated the opening of museums of applied art in London, Vienna , Berlin, designed to maintain and expand public interest in decorative art, as well as the reform of the education of the artists that worked in this sphere. New technologies and design samples of manufactured “household goods” were demonstrated at the Exhibition, but the standards proposed by the Exhibition revealed flaws. The technological achievements of the industry that was booming at that time were not combined with the forms of the Historicism era, overloaded with decor and ornaments that had lost harmony. This fact of decay and loss of synthesis was recognized by critics and artists who wanted to change the situation and create a “style of the era”. Coinciding with objective prerequisites, all this led to the emergence of the Art Nouveau style, the formation of which was closely connected with the aggravation of social contradictions, technical and industrial progress, and development of social ideas, philosophy, science and literature.

The emergence of Art Nouveau was largely anticipated and prepared by the development of aesthetic and philosophical ideas in the second half of the 19th century.

The main "reason" for the emergence of the Art Nouveau style should be sought in the aesthetics that was characteristic of this time, in the cult of beauty, which has turned into a universal, global category. Beauty and its direct bearer - art - were endowed with the ability to transform life, build it according to some aesthetic model, based on universal harmony and balance. The creator of beauty - the artist - turned into exponent of the main aspirations of time. Theorists and practitioners of Art Nouveau have the idea that everything created by man is art. The affirmation of the global role of art and the artist goes in two ways - the proclamation of the of the creator exclusivity and the raising of all human activity to the level of creativity, and any object created by the hands or thoughts of a person to the level of art. This singularity of thinking, characteristic of both style and time, led to the idea of the equal rights of various types of artistic activities and allowed applied art to stand on a par with easel types of artistic activity. The masters of applied art themselves most simply solved the problem of life anesthetization that artists set for themselves. They decorated life, filled the environment in which a person lives, with beautiful objects, common in their style parameters, convenient for the eye and body. It was a platform where benefit and beauty were combined, because the idea of organic synthesis, integrity and mutual influence of the organization of the internal and external spaces of the building, the decor of the interior and the exterior formed the basis of the style.

As a style that claimed absolute novelty, Art Nouveau sought to move away from the European styles of previous eras and, mainly, from historicism, realism and the most complicated forms of symbolism. Hence, in the orientation towards a certain image, in Art Nouveau some dependence on historicism remained.

The innovative ideas of the Art Nouveau style in the field of decorative and applied art were most vividly and consistently embodied in glass, which “revealed” its qualities such as mass, texture, color and light. Signs of style turned out to be in tune with the natural properties of glass - its viscosity, fluidity, the ability to play with light and experiment with the shape of the object, which often led to the creation of art objects without any practical application.

Unexpected, new interpretation was given to the ornament in glass, which often merged with the shape of the product into a single whole. The floral ornament with its world of organic nature acquired self-sufficient importance, becoming the main carrier of the item decorativeness. Interest in a single living object (flower, butterfly, leaf) made artists look for new decorative effects of expressiveness in an effort to convey natural similarities. The predominance of flora and fauna motifs in the Art Nouveau decor was also facilitated by the fact that from the middle of the 19th century, especially at the turn and at the beginning of the 20th century, many books, botanical atlases, articles on plants, their forms and interpretations in the art of ornamentation appeared. A great influence on the formation of the decorative system was exerted by the ornamental heritage (“floral” style) of W. Morris, who developed more than six hundred kinds of drawings, revealed primarily in the art of fabrics, in trellises and stained-glass windows.

In France, Emile Galle (1846-1904) and the Nancy school that he established had a fundamental influence on the development of art glass. Having created his special “natural style” in colored laminated glass, Galle affirmed in it the sculptural unity of form and decor, their interdependence. Flat "applicative" ornament of patch colored glass of the second half of the 19th century Galle replaced by a voluminous relief decoration, fused with the shape of the object. This was a decisively new non-traditional approach to the material, a new assessment of its plastic qualities. Excellent in mastering all types of glass processing, Galle became famous for creating products from laminated (six to seven layers) colored glass (cameo glass) processed by carving and engraving according to the type of lapidary work, and using marquetry technique. Galle's works were distinguished by maximum use of the material decorative abilities, its transparency and at the same time the color palette richness, which allowed visually transform the surface of vessels, creating the effect of space depth, free placement of an image on the vessel body, the botanical accuracy of flora and fauna motifs taken from the local nature of Lorraine, combined with relevant semantic sense and symbolic meaning of the image.

Many factories imitated the Galle glass, copying it directly, processing the theme of decor or creating their own works according to his sketches. This did not deprive them of their creative impulse. Focusing on the “Galle style”, while preserving the artistic principles laid down by the master, the manufactories often developed their own technologies and methods for processing glass, which contributed to the creation of works original in their form and decorative solution that harmoniously fitted into the general concept of the Art Nouveau style. An example of this is the activity of the French manufactory of the brothers Auguste (1853-1909) and Antonin (1864-1930) Daum. The works of the Daum brothers, created under the influence of Galle, had their own stylistic and technological features: foliage motifs were used exclusively for decorative purposes and were deprived of symbolism, in the processing of the products themselves; the company patented such new techniques as “martel”, interglass decoration and color chips.

Paris glass factory “Legra and Co.” was rather prominent representative of the “Galle trend”. The company implemented the ornaments with fruit, landscapes, flowers and Far Eastern motifs, and the glass itself was distinguished by texture, richness and brightness of the color palette.

Close to the Nancy school were the products of the Burgun, Schwerer and Co. plant, sketches for which, until the mid-1890s were performed by E. Galle. In turn, the owners of the plant had to implement the artist’s projects, using all methods of decoration known to them, and label them with the Galle signature. The convinced follower of the “Galle style” was Desiree Christian, who at one time worked at the enterprise “Burgun, Schwerer and Co.” and who later created his own style of glass art processing.

For several years, the Müller Brothers were closely associated with the Galle company, organizing their own production in 1898. In terms of technology and themes, their art products did not just imitate, but copied the works of Galle and the Nancy school, up to the so-called “talking glass”. The company's serial assortment, including decorative vases and lighting fixtures, had long remained committed to the floral decor of Art Nouveau and was successful even in the 1920s, when a change of style took place.

The style created by Galle went beyond the company, being an artistic impulse for the development of glass production, including bulk products. At the same time, despite the serial nature, the significance of each work that left one or another workshop was emphasized, as evidenced by the signatures on the products.

Subsequent conquests in art glass were manifested in the Art Deco era - the style movement in art and architecture of the second quarter of the 20th century.

The appearance of the new style was first noticed in 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, where critics and artists discovered an amazing stylistic unity of pavilions and expositions, which allowed them to unanimously proclaim the birth of a new modern style.

In French glass, René Lalique (1860-1945) was a prominent representative of the Art Deco style, who left the jewelry business in 1909 and took up art glass. Like Emil Galle, the artist searched for new means of material expressiveness, giving the glass inner glow, creating a variety of objects in it, including, in addition to vases and perfume bottles, sections of wall panels and lamps for liners, and decorations for car radiators. In his works, distinguished by their balance and statics, among ornamental relief design in classical retrospections, there was decor in the shape of a snakeskin, artichoke leaves, images of animals and birds, stylized floral motifs.

Along with Lalique at that time, there were no less eminent masters of glasswork - M. Marino, Gabriel Arzhi-Rousseau (1885-1953), Francis-Emile Decorshamon (1880-1971).

Many glassmakers, being recognized masters by the 1920s, began to work in the Art Nouveau era. Having brought in to the glass of Art Deco their unique authorial patterns, they preserve the features of the previous style in their work up to the mid-1920s. This fully applies to the Brothers Daum manufactory, which was reopened in 1919. In parallel with the resumption of pre-war models’ production, the manufactory began experimenting with new models, colors, and techniques. For example, jade (i.e., green) vases appeared; floral ornaments were stylistically emphasized, often turning into a game of geometric lines that fill the surface of the subject; colors become brighter and less like natural shades.

Thus, the Art Deco era glassmakers, applying and processing Art Nouveau motifs and techniques, taking into account the latest artistic trends of the era, produced original objects corresponding to the new aesthetics, with particular harmony, elegance, sometimes even rigor, distinguished by the use of bold colors, simplified, sometimes reaching to the abstraction of decors and a variety of forms.

A series of video reflecting the diversity of the museum Western European glass art collection is presented in our Video Archive.