Émille Gallé vase puts Eric Knowles in the pink

Antique expert Eric Knowles with a small glass vase

Eric Knowles is in the pink after a cameo-cut glass vase by the French artist Émille Gallé came to light during a routine house visit

Émille Gallé vase

I love the arrival of spring and this small vase, with its splash of bold yellow, pink and floral decoration, encapsulates the joy of new life, nature and all things bright and beautiful.

It’s also an important antique. Decorative art is my forte so I was excited to learn about its discovery nestling in a cabinet during a routine home visit. Because this cameo-cut glass vase, dated c. 1900, bears the signature of the creative genius, French artist and designer Émille Gallé (1846-1904).

A cameo-cut glass vase by the French artist and designer Émille Gallé

Gallé only lived for 58 years but he made an enormous impact with his talent nurtured through family businesses. His father, Charles Gallé, was a merchant of glassware and ceramics who settled in Nancy in 1844, while his father-in- law owned a mirror factory. His father began to manufacture glassware with a floral design. He also took over a struggling faience factory.

Émille Gallé was an innovator in the industrial age when advances in science presented ever increasing possibilities in technology and materials. Noted for both his art nouveau glass art and furniture, he founded the École de Nancy (Nancy School) in 1901, a design movement in the French city of his birth.

Consequently, this small, crocus-inspired vase, measuring only 5in (13cm) high, is big on importance.

Gallé’s Love of nature

It demonstrates the importance of flowers, colour and technical innovation in Gallé glass works, especially vases.

He was a dedicated botanist and, in this example, flowers in varying degrees of bud and blossom curve upwards as if growing out from the base of the vase. Gallé had an extensive flower garden as a source of models. He also required his artists to use plants as models. For him, flowers had a strong symbolic appeal.

In 1893, he wrote that, according to Saint Paul, each flower and fruit had its own symbolic meaning. The olive leaf is peace, wheat reflects charity and goodness, grapes are the symbol of the Eucharist, while the fig signals generosity.

He also developed innovative techniques to showcase his love of nature, including cased glass and cameo glass. Cased glass was created by using heat to fuse together two layers of glass of different colours. This could be repeated for multiple layers of glass. Cameo glass was a means of decorating cased glass by using a diamond saw or etching it with acid. This allowed colours from the layer beneath to become visible. The quality of the etching is the most important factor to consider when determining value.

The recent vase features these techniques with the yellow-bodied glass having a blue and pinkish layer over it. Gallé has cut away the top surfaces of the pink and blue to reveal the yellow ground, in turn creating a floral design.

Colour palette

As early as 1878 Gallé coloured glass with a small quantity of cobalt oxide to make a delicate sapphire tone which he called Clair de lune or Moonlight.

The French glass designer Émille Galleé

He sometimes covered this with a glaze of cobalt blue, a technique which was widely imitated by other glassmakers, particularly in Germany and England.

However, his most original and characteristic colours were a deep violet made with manganese, a pink made with selenium or copper, which he created in 1889, and a green made with chromium, which he used to case pieces in three or four layers, giving a depth of colour.

Some of his early glass and faience works for the family factory at Saint-Clémont were displayed at the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition. At the Paris exhibition of 1878 Gallé won the Grand Prix, gaining recognition for his exquisitely decorated glass. He was also awarded a gold medal at the 1900 Paris exhibition. He left an indelible mark in the history of decorative glass.

Redolent of the summer sun, I can only imagine the joy the vase will give to its new owners.

As well as appearing in a number of TV programmes, Eric Knowles is a consultant valuer for Hansons Auctioneers, for more details go to www.hansonsauctioneers.co.uk