A stunning late 19th Century cameo glass lamp decorated with a purple and blue floral landscape against a warm yellow field with excellent colour and very fine hand finished detail, signed Gallé.
Although renowned for his work as a Verrier, lamps only began to form a significant part of Gallés repertoire in glass at the very close of the 19th Century. Indeed, only in the last few years of his life does it appear that he realised he realised the full aesthetic potential of opalescent glass viewed by transmitted light. In an Art Nouveau context, Gallé’s creations reached their apogee between 1900 and his death in 1904, a brief period during which he adapted the shape of much of his glassware to its theme. Vases decorated with lilies became lily-shaped in a marriage of form and function. Fully-ripened grounds pendent on their vines glowed from within at the touch of a switch. Mushroom lamps brought the concept to full embodiment in the metamorphosis of the giant fungi into light fixtures. The comprehensive volume catalogues the full range of light fixtures produced by the Gallé cristallerie, from those made during his lifetime to those manufactured for more than twenty-five years after his death. Including table, bedside, hanging and wall models, Gallé lamps reveals the extraordinary variety of thematic shade-and-base combinations introduced by the firm: butterflies, moths, dragonflies, swallows and eagles hover, flutter, glide or swoop over floral and mountain vistas in a seemingly endless interplay of Nature’s decorative motifs.
From Art Glass to Lamps
By the late 1890’s, electricity’s domination of the domestic lighting market was effectively complete; practically all of the design constraints inherent in the use of such traditional combustion fuels as kerosene, oil and paraffin had been eliminated. No longer did a lamp’s components dictate its shape. Gone was the need for a vertical flame and a fuel reservoir; the latter a bulky encumbrance that had somehow to be incorporated into the fixture’s overall design. Gas, long a viable alternative source of illumination, was clean, easy to use, and smokeless, but it, too, contained a vertical flame that represented a fire hazard and that had therefore, to be housed in a glass chimney. This, in turn, prevented the light source from being positioned at an angle, let alone inverted, as it could be with an incandescent filament bulb. Perhaps word of electricity’s advancement came slowly to France’s outer provinces, including Alsace-Lorraine, leaving Gallé and his cohorts in the Ecole de Nancy unsure of its practically and designed combustion or gas light fixtures any earlier; perhaps, he did not initially consider lighting as an artistic extensions of his work as a Verrier. When he did, finally, embrace the medium, towards 1900, he was playing catch-up with fellow members of the annual Paris Salons. Gallés apparent uncertainty, and therefore reluctance, on how best to expand his glassware repertoire into the relatively new field of electric lighting – perhaps through his apprehension about how to incorporate the incandescent filament bulb to maximum effect within his designs – is shown in one of the lamps he displayed at the 1900 Exposition Universelle. In this, he took an existing vase – a large organic vessel entitled ‘L’écaille Florale de l’iris’ executed in marquéterie-sur-verre with applied and incised detailing and surface patination – and transformed into a lamp by inserting one bulb within the vessel’s interior and another into its bronze stopper. The critic Pierre-Emile Nicolas described the conversion of the vase into lamp in his review of the glassware shown at the 1900 Exposition,
‘This provides a perfect adaption tortoishell iris into electric lighting, in crystal mosaic and bronze. Before anthesis, the flower of the iris continues into a small almost translucent membrane sac lined with ribs. This is the spathe, as it is called by botanists, which serves as the motif of the marvellous lamp in question. The handle is formed from a leaf and a flower bud, every logically adapted in gilded bronze as is the base. The surface of this lamp is a crystal jade mosaic depicting flowers and leave, at the centre of which is inscribed this thought “Light, you will not be extinguished”. A special mechanism enables light to emit at the same time from an electrical bulb within the stopper and another within the vase itself. Monsieur Gallé has created so many lamps that come in all manner of distinct styles. As can be seen, in whatever direction his creative genius pushes him, he tries always not to follow the beaten path.’
Clearly, this was a transitional measure, a hesitant if not concessionary first step for Gallé along the road to his eventual full embrace of the lighting medium.
Category: Emile Gallé Antique Glass.
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