The French technique of acid-engraving cameo relief designs on blanks of cased colored glass was but one facet of the trend in glass manufacturing known as art nouveau, which became popular in France about 1890 and continue in favor until just before the First World War in 1914.
Cameo Glass in the French tradition was not intended to rival the meticulously engraved English Cameo Glass. It was, instead, a new conception of glass design, utilizing color and form in what was originally intended as a subtle Oriental style, and very handsome and artistically executed examples were developed. French glassmakers were proud of their work and almost all of their pieces bear a signature. Toward the end of the art nouveau era, this Cameo Glass, of such merit in earlier years, deteriorated into grotesquely formed pieces of garish colored glass.
Joseph Brocard, artist, glass technologist, and early disciple of art nouveau, exerted a strong influence on the work produced by such men as Galle, Rousseau, Marinot, De Latte, De Vez, and many of his other contemporaries. Primarily, though, Brocard was noted for his enamel glassware, made in imitation of Oriental and mid-eastern wares. Best remembered of these are his lighting fixtures, resembling enameled mosque lamps.
The most renowned of the French masters of Cameo Glass was Emile Galle, who was born in the important glass center of Nancy, France, in 1846. Galle started his first glass factory in Mysenthal (Meisenthal), a small glass manufacturing center in the Moselle Department, in 1879. The blanks made at Mysenthal were decorated under his personal supervision in a small studio which he established in Nancy. His work gained public recognition at L’Exposition de l’Union Centrale des Arts Decoratif in Paris in 1884. Galle’s fame became such that he was appointed head of the school of arts at Nancy. He developed to be the foremost exponent of the so-called art nouveau, the modern style in glass of his time.
Galle took for his subjects flowers and landscape designs instead of the figure subjects favored by English artists for Cameo Glass. By the use of varied colored casings of glass upon a base of either transparent or translucent metal, he obtained new and artistic effects. Some of these casings of colored glass were obtained by picking up powdered glass from the marver as the hot glass was being rolled to give it shape, reheating the whole – in some instances this color was locked in by casing another layer of different color over the entire mass – and finally blowing it into the shape desired. Galle utilized these masses of color underneath and on the surface of the glass by designing subjects to suit the object in hand, using the various layers of color in his flowers, insects, and landscapes. When we consider that all of this work was done in relief, by first etching out the mass with acid and then engraving the detail with a wheel, the craftsmanship underlying such beauty of individual work is apparent.
Galle’s work, bought by museums and people of good taste in Europe and America, placed glass upon a high artistic plane.
Principal among Galle’s collaborators and workers were Louis Hertaux who created several designs for him at Nancy, the decorator Paul Nicolas, and August Herbst and Daigueperce, two of the most accomplished etchers and engravers in Galle’s studios. Paul Nicolas in later years worked for L’Verrerie de la Compagnie des Cristaleries de Saint Louis, a branch of the Baccarat firm, and also under his own name in Nancy as a decorator of glass, exhibiting in the expositions of 1927 and 1937 and winning award both years for his glassware.
After the death of Galle in 1905, the factory was under the direction of Victor Prouve until 1914. The wares produced during Prouve’s management are marked with a star preceding the name “Galle.” (This refutes undeniably the erroneous assumption by some dealers and collectors that pieces so marked were made by the hands of the master, Galle.) Following the First World War, in 1918, the firm carried on production at Epinay in the Vosges. The works changed hands in 1921, continuing for a time, but the glassware became increasingly poor quality.
Eugene Rousseau (1827-1891) worked originally in ceramics; later he manufactured artistic glassware. He and Galle were the prinicpal apostles of the new conception of glass design inspired by Japanese art forms, Japan being at that time just recently opened to the West. Among his other commendable wares were Craquelle Glass (crackled glass). Marble Glass, Agate Glass and imitation gems. Rousseau incrusted his models with gold and introduced gold and other metallic oxides in his melts (glass batches). His productions – and some consider these his best – date from 1967 when he was employed by the Appert Brothers of Clichy. After gaining recognition at the exposition of 1884, Rousseau sold his establishment to Leveille in 1885.
M. Leveille directed and operated a decorating establishment for glass and porcelain in 1869. In 1885 he acquired Rouseeau’s glassworks and continued to make glass, a Rousseau had done, along the lines inspired by Japanese art. About 1889 he produced glassware employing acid etching and wheel engraving in the style of art nouveau. At the beginning of the twentieth century the business was taken over by Harant & Guignard of Paris, who were primarily decorators of glass.
Maurice Marinot, an accomplished painter, entered the glass trade in 1911 at Bar-sur-Seine an ancient town pleasantly situated on the left bank of the Seine, about 125 miles southeast of Paris. His first productions were decorated with colored enamels, usually in designs of decorative flowers, birds, or feminine heads. From enamels he turned to deep geometric engraving, using blanks that were, to say the least, uninspired in form and color. In his third period, Marinot renounced exterior decoration for his glassware and, like Rousseau and Galle before him, sought colorful effects with the aid of mineral stains, oxides, and cased colored glass.
In later years Marinot developed a style all his own. Handling the blowpipe himself, often in the very doors of the furnace, he made those glass productions that won him honors during the Exposition of Modern Art in 1925, and won him the reputation among his countrymen of possessing the greatest genius of any of the craftsmen in glass.
The Daum Brothers, Auguste and Antonin, were originally from Loranine, which explains the Cross of Lorraine, used in their monogram. They founded their first factory in Nancy in 1875, producing bottles. Their earliest efforts in artistic decorative and tableware were with gold ornamentation; they turned from this to glassware inspired by Arabian designs and decorated with scrolls and leaves. Shortly after the introduction of this “Egyptian” glass, they began to produce colored glass by the “flushed” process. Their cameo and enamel glasswares, produced about 1890, rank among the best representations of these types. The Daums were active in the School of Art in Nancy during Galle’s direction of that institution and also under the new staff formed in later years by Marinot. At time went on they developed techniques of their own which are familiar to us today. Currently the Daum glass works is producing decorative crystal glassware in the modern vein.
Le Gras was noted for his imaginative glassware and bottles until he ceased production about 1914. He started work in Saint-Dennis, a suburb north of Paris, in 1864. Especially laudable are his scenic productions.
Muller Brothers of Luneville began their careers working for Emile Galle. They founded their own factory in the vicinity of Luneville, just south of Nancy on the Moselle River, afterwards moving it to Crois Mare. Cameo pieces made at Luneville are signed “Muller,” “Muller Luneville,” or simply “Luneville.” Those made at Crois Mare bear the name of the town in connection with the name Muller or just “Crois Mare.” Their most active period was between 1905 and 1937.
J. B. Williaume (Villaume) of Pantin was noted for his acid-engraving on case glass blanks, especially portraits, about 1878. Very few of his early portrait pieces have been found.
Andre De Latte established his works in Nancy in 1921, the principal output being lighting fixtures and opaque glassware in imitation of the Bohemian Opaline. Among his best wares were his cameo productions, often done with a sensitive combination of graceful design and vibrant color effects.
Edward Michael was the finest engraver of glass in France in his time. (He was a direct descendant of Nancy-born Claude Michael, 1738-1814, known as “Clodion,” whose ceramic figure modeling was world renowned.) Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Edward Michael worked for Rousseau and later Leveille. Examples of his cameo work are very rare. The quality of Michel’s engraving rivals that of his English contemporaries, Woodall and Northwood.
M. Walters of Nancy began working about 1925 in Cameo Glass and artistic productions of Pate de Verre. His cameo pieces are not always fine in color or design but, happily, there are plentiful exceptions.
Alphonse G. Reyen, one of the most able engravers and decorators of glass, worked for Eugene Rousseau about 1877. Many examples of his cameo work were exhibited at the exposition of 1889.
Tessire du Motay, Kessler and Mareschal were three artists who utilized the etching needle in making shallow cameo relief designs on glass, working from about 1862 until the end of the nineteenth century.
Cameo Glass in the French style was produced in most of the countries of Europe contemporaneously with the birth of this expression of art nouveau in France.