Jan 29, 2014 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
We first briefly introduced you to the creative genius of René Lalique in our feature covering the history of vintage jewelry. While he is known for highly original jewelry designs, his work in glass is another celebrated medium. So just who is this renaissance man, this original artist who mastered so many techniques? Join us as we learn more about the artist who was once referred to as the “Rodin of transparencies.”
Lalique was born in April 1860 in France, spending most of his childhood in Paris. His eclectic background guided his hand throughout both of his careers as a jeweler and glass artisan. From a young age, he had an innate inclination toward creative expression and appreciation of the natural world. He studied at a variety of institutions in his native Paris as well as England. While a student at the École des Arts Décoratifs, Lalique apprenticed to Parisian jeweler Louis Aucoc. After a brief stint at the School of Art in Sydenham, England, he returned to work with and learn from sculptor Lequien. These two mentors inspired his craft greatly and in the late 1800s he struck out on his own, creating exquisite jewelry that he presented to big firms such as Cartier.
His daring efforts paid off and by 1886 he began running the workshop of Jules Destape. Here he made his own designs; his early pieces are mostly crafted in gold, bearing ancient and Japanese influences. Famous clients, such as Sarah Bernhardt, were drawn to his new approach. Lalique did not conceive of a piece’s worth as a mere addition of its rare components, but rather a result of its artistic composition as a whole. He incorporated unique materials into these works: glass, pearls, ivory, semi-precious stones, and even enamel.
Around a decade later, Lalique opened up additional workshops and garnered more awards and acclaim. The year 1900 marked the pinnacle of his jewelry career, for in five short years his focus would shift toward glass.
René Lalique glass
A chance encounter with François Coty in 1905 inspired him to design Coty’s perfume bottles. By 1909 Lalique held his first exhibition that focused exclusively on his glass creations. The artist had officially left jewelry behind.
His glass career was at its height around 1925 at the Exhibition of Arts Décoratifs. Here he showcased a vast assortment of products: perfume bottles, small statues, ornaments, vases, tableware, lamps, and even unique architectural items. Like his jewelry, all pieces took their inspiration from nature. Yet his glass work is a study in contrasts: frosted and clear glass in juxtaposition, alongside geometry and natural shapes (plants and the female form were favorite subject matters). Occasionally Lalique would incorporate patinas or enamels. Later in his career, he focused on large-scale projects like the Normandie oceanliner. The firm had created over 1,500 glass models before having the factory overtaken by the Germans during During World War II. Sadly at the time of his death in May 1945 Lalique’s factory had not returned to its proper use.
Two additional generations would go on to direct the company. His son Marc began working with him in 1922; he pioneered techniques for crystal and crafted more stylized figures. Marc’s daughter Marie-Claire was known for her lifelike nature scenes during her time at the helm. While the firm has new leadership, they maintain the legacy of crafting fine items. Each piece is still hand-made, requiring over 30 transformations to get it to its final rendition.
Identifying Lalique glass
Thankfully most of Lalique’s glass work is signed. You will find a simple signature engraved on the underside of the item. By and large the “R Lalique” or “R Lalique, France” signature dates a piece to 1945 or earlier. You may also find a marking of just “Lalique.” Although this is more rare, a factory number may appear alongside the official signature. Lalique marks do vary, so engage a trusted authority for authentication.
Color is another way to date a work by Lalique. Popular colors for the 1930s include pale amber, dark gray, and a blue opalescent. As we noted before, they come in both frosted and clear variations.
A final note on authentication is weight. For this approach, you will definitely want to engage a trusted shop owner. Pieces made before the war are heavy, but lighter when compared to post WWII works. After the war, more lead was incorporated into the glass, making the items heavier.
For our readers: Do you collect or admire Lalique? Tell us about your favorite piece!