The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG), which holds the largest collection of René Lalique materials at a public institution, will present a new exhibition dedicated to the French artist and designer. René Lalique: Enchanted by Glass will trace Lalique’s storied career from high-society jeweler to global entrepreneur. Opening on May 17, 2014, the exhibition will also provide new insights into Lalique’s working methods by bringing together nearly 200 pieces of unique jewelry, glass objects, rare production molds, and design drawings, dating from about 1893 to the artist’s death in 1945.
Lalique (1860-1945) was a successful jeweler who cemented his reputation for innovative design at the 1900 Paris Exposition, where he won top honors. Following the exposition, he turned from jewelry design to focus exclusively on the creation of luxury glass products. Lalique elevated pressed and molded glassware to a fine art form through his unique designs and creative mass-production techniques. His aesthetic choices informed the styles of Art Nouveau and Art Deco in France, and the objects he created have become icons of these eras.
The Corning Museum’s collection of Lalique materials is unrivaled. In 2011, collectors Stanford and Elaine Steppa donated nearly 400 objects to the Museum, encompassing many of Lalique’s best-known works in glass including perfume bottles, mold-blown and pressed-glass vases, ashtrays, boxes, clocks, car mascots, lamps, statuettes, inkwells, blotters, and tableware. The gift brought CMoG’s collection to more than 600 objects, which span Lalique’s career. The Museum’s Rakow Library holds over 2,000 documents relating to his glass production.
“The exhibition is an outgrowth of Stanford and Elaine Steppa’s remarkable gift,” said Karol Wight, executive director of The Corning Museum of Glass. “The Steppa Collection makes possible the Museum’s ability to tell Lalique’s life story from start to finish. CMoG’s collection is unparalleled both in its depth and breadth of Lalique materials. Nowhere else in the world are visitors able to learn so comprehensively about this renowned master glassmaker.”
“René Lalique is a pivotal figure in the history of late 19th- and early-20th-century glass,” said Kelley Elliott, exhibition curator and curatorial assistant of modern glass at The Corning Museum of Glass. “Lalique designed decorative glass for every part of the home, he was seminal in the early success of the French perfume industry, he introduced decorative glass into architecture, luxury trains and cruise ships, and he established a legacy of excellence and innovation in luxury glass production.”
The exhibition traces Lalique’s transition from jeweler to industrialist, including:
- his leading role in the creation of bijouterie (the incorporation of semiprecious stones with non-traditional materials like glass, enamel, horn, and bone), and his triumphant display at the 1900 Paris Exposition, which had an important influence on Art Nouveau aesthetics;
- his growing fascination with glass and his decision to transition from his career as a jeweler to focus solely on glass production, starting with the manufacture of stylish bottles designed for French perfumer François Coty;
- his commitment to technological advancement and mechanization, culminating in the opening of a factory in Wingen-sur-Moder; and
- his groundbreaking display at the 1925 Paris Exposition, which had a marked influence on the Art Deco movement.
First in jewelry design and then in glass manufacturing, Lalique pushed the boundaries to create unique and never-before-seen objects. In doing so, he often pioneered new techniques and processes for integrating, handling, and/or shaping glass. The exhibition will examine key innovations in Lalique’s career through the display of molds, design drawings, and finished pieces.
- In 1891, Lalique invented a type of pâte de verre, a process that produces unique glass pieces like the distinctive Pendant with Bishop Birds. The patented method uses glass paste, which is fused and annealed in a single-use, metal mold, removed with acid, and then finished by hand.
- In 1909, Lalique received a patent for a new way to mold glass bottles, decanters, and vases. The new technique would prove most useful to the perfume industry, which was seeking new ways to expand its market to the bourgeoisie. Lalique partnered with famed parfumiers like Coty, Worth, D’Orsay, Roger & Gallet, and Lucien Lelong to create iconic bottles for individual fragrances. The design-driven marketing innovation helped to propel the popularity of French perfume throughout the world.
- In 1915, Lalique received a patent for a cire perdue (lost wax) technique for casting glass.a molding process that Lalique initially used to shape metal for his jewelry. While each cire perdue product was unique, Lalique produced wax models en masse that allowed for limited-edition runs. The exhibition will display vases made by this method, as well as two related molds for unrealized pieces.
- In 1921, Lalique opened a new glass factory, in the historic glassmaking town of Wingen-sur-Moder. The factory began using a more efficient manufacturing method known as glass-pressing. Using a steel mold into which molten glass was poured and a hand-operated pressing machine, Lalique produced radiator caps for automobile enthusiasts as well as ashtrays marketed to the new women of the 1920s who had adopted smoking.
Complementing CMoG’s extensive permanent collection of Lalique objects, fourteen unique pieces of jewelry, decorative objects and designs by Lalique are being loaned by the Musée des arts décoratifs in Paris; the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon; The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond; the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC; and the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, WI.
A fully illustrated book, published by the Museum in association with Yale University Press, accompanies the exhibition. Elliott, along with the Museum’s curator of modern glass Tina Oldknow and Elizabeth Everton, visiting faculty in the department of history, Concordia University, St. Paul, contributed essays that examine Lalique’s life and career and the history of the Lalique collection at the Museum, respectively. The book features hundreds of color photographs of individual pieces of glass and original wax and plaster models selected from The Museum’s extensive collection.
A companion exhibition in the Museum’s Rakow Library will further contextualize Lalique and survey the groundbreaking glass objects created by Lalique and some of his European contemporaries, including Maurice Marinot, Auguste Herbst, Emile Gallé, and Val St. Lambert. Designing for a New Century: Works on Paper by Lalique and his Contemporaries will feature design drawings, trade catalogs, period photographs, and rare books from the Rakow Library’s special collections.
Both exhibitions are on view May 17, 2014 through January 4, 2015.
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