A Brief History of Cameo Glass
Cameo glass was first seen in Ancient Roman art where it was an alternative to luxury engraved gem vessels in cameo style. It was also used in Islamic art in the 9th and 10th centuries but the precise techniques used by the Roman and Islamic artists were lost to history.
Within a year of the copy being completed, several factories had begun producing Cameo glass in order to meet the public’s demand for such pieces….
Cameo Glass – The Technique
Cameo glass is a glass making technique where several layers of coloured glass are fused together and the outer layer(s) removed to produce the finished product. They may be removed by carving using wheels or drills or by acid-etching where the outer layer is dissolved using acid.
Often makers used a combination of these two techniques. The figure areas would be covered with a resist layer of wax or bituminous paint, and the blank repeatedly dipped in hydrofluoric acid. The detailed work would then done with wheels and drills, before finishing, and usually polishing.
Soufflé or mould-blown glass is a technique where the shape of the piece is formed in a mould to produce a similar effect.
Cameo glass most commonly consists of white opaque glass figures and motifs on a dark-colored background. In our period, the artists were no longer inspired by roman subjects and plant and flower designs predominate.
Below are some of the key artists and organisations that developed the art of Cameo glass:
Thomas Webb and Sons
In 1877, Thomas Webb and Sons employed the brothers George and Thomas Woodall. The Woodall’s had been apprenticed to John Northwood whilst he recreated the Portland Vase. They refined the techniques and produced many beautiful pieces of cameo glass. The most important of which were marked with the “GEM CAMEO” trademark.
The Thomas Webb exhibition of cameo glass which was shown at the Chicago International Exhibition of 1893 was widely acclaimed.
The company continued producing glassware into the 20th century, moving towards more Art Nouveau styles as fashion dictated.
Gallé was inspired by historical Cameo glass and made pieces with as many as five fused layers.
He experimented with a variety of methods to create shading, subtle colour graduations and perspective.
Around 1899 he began commercially producing Art Nouveau Cameo glass using the acid etching technique on his middle-range pieces. These were of high quality but lacked the individualism of pieces made by Gallé himself or one of his master craftsmen.
Daum Frères was a French workshop based in Nancy. Their work was initially inspired by Gallé and they became well known themselves for their Art Nouveau pieces. (Learn more about Daum Frères in our Know Your Artists article on them here.)
Verrerie Schneider, founded by the brothers Charles and Ernest produced Art Deco pieces during the 1920’s. Particularly collectable are pieces from the La Verre Francais line, marked by a script signature on the lower edge. Elite pieces are also marked CHARDER, indicating a piece designed by Charles Schneider. The “Schneider” signature only appears on pieces without acid etching.
Where to buy
Our showrooms in London, located on Portobello Road, contain a variety of Cameo glass vases and other items. These include a stunning Gallé lamp and eye-catching vases from Daum Frères amongst other pieces.
If you are looking to begin or add to a collection, we would be only too happy to offer advice and assistance. If you would like to view these items in person, we can arrange an appointment for you, or alternatively, you can browse our collection online.