The Tradition of Glass Furniture
The tradition of glass furniture began in the early nineteenth century when the Russian Imperial Glass Works created several tables for members of the imperial family. But it was the opening of the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London that prompted the development of larger, more elaborate furnishings, made possible by new technologies that allowed the fashioning and annealing of large pieces of glass. The number and size of the exhibits—and the remarkable Crystal Palace, the glass structure that housed them all—were staggering in their effect.
In a series of subsequent international exhibitions held in London and Paris during the second half of the century, glass displays attracted an increasing number of customers from the Near East, where affluent rulers sought Western style furniture made for Eastern tastes.
Many European manufacturers were seeking world markets. In the latter half of the 19th century, several glass companies began to make large, colored objects—including chandeliers, candelabra, fountains, and furniture—that were specifically designed for the very wealthy rulers of the Near East and India. Most of these pieces were decorated with cut facets that captured and reflected light.
From about 1875 until 1920, wealthy Indian families bought quantities of large-scale pieces from two companies in the United Kingdom, F.&C. Osler of Birmingham and Joseph Webb of Coalbourne Hill, Stourbridge. In France, the Cristalleries de Baccarat also catered to wealthy Indian customers.
For much of the 19th century Osler even maintained a Calcutta showroom. Baccarat followed that lead by opening a showroom in Bombay in 1896.
The Maharajahs' taste in glass furniture was not universally shared in Europe. A reporter covering the 1878 Exposition Universelle in Paris noted that one of Osler's mammoth chandeliers, while beautiful, was "... more fitted for the throne-room of some magnificent Eastern despot than for anything else." And another commentator recounted that "considerable amusement is experienced by French visitors and foreigners at finding crystal used for chairs and sofas—probably furniture intended for the proverbial glass house."
Indian Palaces with Glass Furniture
Jai Vilas Palace at Gwalior boasts two of the largest chandeliers in existence, made by Osler. Both have 248 lamps, weigh three tons, and measure more than 40 feet high. According to palace records, elephants were hoisted onto the roof to make sure that it could support the weight of these colossal chandeliers.
The Moti Bagh Palace is home to a spectacular glass fountain. The Durbar Hall in Qila Mubarak has more than 20 Osler chandeliers.
The City Palace at Udaipur is one of the largest in India and is open to the public. In addition to a Crystal Gallery in the main section, there are areas of intricately inlaid glass mosaic, mirrors, and ornamentation—all made and installed by Indian glassmakers.
This red sandstone palace is home to one of the two cut glass boats created by Baccarat at the turn of the 20th century.