In an era of commercialism, mass production and loss of originality, Jugendstil glass was radically different and today it is very much sought after among those looking to buy or sell antiques. It stood for individuality, craftsmanship and novelty. It explored new and quite unexpected shapes and developed new decorative effects.
Jugendstil glass was made mainly in the last quarter of the 19th century in Austria-Hungary and Germany. Jugendstil was the Germanic equivalent of the French Art nouveau, and the term was applied to all forms of manufacturing craftsmanship – furniture, ceramics, metalwork, glass, jewellery etc. But arguably glass was the most eloquent expression of this style.
Bohemia had long been an important centre of glass production. The region had been famous for its coloured glass and enamelled glassware in the 16th to 18th centuries. In the 19th century Germany produced clear, stained and overlay glass decorated with finely painted scenes. However, by the 1850s glass design and shapes became quite repetitive, standardised and dull. Recognising this situation, craftsmen began experimenting to produce new glass, the result of which was the Jugendstil style glass. Instead of functionality, more importance was given to the artistic taste, interesting shape, fascinating iridescence and decoration.
Some Jugendstil glass took slender, elegant and symmetrical shapes. However, at the height of the style, asymmetrical shapes were produced by hand shaping the molten glass, twisting and pulling it into original and unusual forms. Bowls could be pinched in at the waist or rim, and the necks of vases pulled and twisted into goose shape lines and elongated plant forms that are so typical of Art Nouveau. A range of decorative techniques came into their own. Iridescent glassware became particularly prominent. Ancient Roman glass was being excavated at the time, and it had a natural and very attractive iridescence that was caused by prolonged burial in the ground. The same effect could be produced by coating glass with metallic oxides and heating it in the furnace. Gold oxide, for example, produced a ruby lustre, silver produced a yellow lustre, and platinum produced silver shades; copper was used for green.
Cased and cameo glass were very popular too. These were made of two or more layers of different coloured glass and the outer layer was carved out or etched with acid. The technique achieved an intricate colouration and designs similar to painting. Both these techniques had already been used in the early 19th century, but Jugendstil craftsmen managed to produce new and exciting design aspects. Another decorative technique was combing. It was achieved by adding threads of coloured glass to a molten core and then dragging them across the surface to produce festoons and marbled patterns. Other interesting effects were produced by glassware imitating precious and semi-precious hard stones, such as onyx and various quartz stones.
The Austrian firm Loetz, one of the best known glass makers in Europe, played a leading role in the production of Jugendstil glass. During the 1880s the factory-produced glass imitated onyx cornelian, agate, chalcedony, aventurine, jasper and other hard stones. However, they are mainly known for producing the iridescent glassware between about 1800-1900. There were two main types of Loetz iridescent glass: Papillion, which had pearl coloured spots all over the vessel; and Phenomenon, which had raised glass threads throughout the surface. Loetz’s best examples of iridescent glass are extremely rich in colour. Among the more novel shapes they produced were three handled vessels and pieces with applied decoration in the form of snakes. Some vases were mounted in silver, silver plate, bronze and other metals. A lot of Loetz iridescent glass was made in imitation of the American Louis Comfort Tiffany’s Favrile glass. Loetz glass was also exported to the US and sold alongside Tiffany’s products. They were stamped with Loetz marks, to differentiate them from Tiffany, as they looked very similar.
In the 1860s it was the J&L Lobmeyer company that pioneered a commercial production of iridescent glass. However, by the 1900s they were mainly known for their fine engraving, enamelling and gilding on glass, and had some of the finest European designers working for them. For example, Josef Hoffman (1870-1956) developed the famous bronzitdecor while working for Lobmeyer. This was a technique of geometric lines and floral motifs painted in grey and black on clear or matt glass.
From the late 19th century artists such as Josef Maria Olbrich (1867-1908), Otto Prutscher (1880-1949) and Koloman Moser (1868-1918), together with the members of the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, worked to commission for the Viennese firm of Bakalowitz & Soehne. Their original designs were executed by various Bohemian factories, including Loetz. Among these commissions were iridescent glassware in various lustres, bronze mounted vases and crystal candlesticks, and a range of long stemmed wine glasses and decanters in overlaid transparent glass.
Highly regarded at the turn of the century, but probably not so well known today, was the firm of Harrach. The factory directly replicated Tiffany vases, cameo and cased glass and iridescent glass. Another company, Ludwig Moser & Sons from Karlsbad, concentrated on carved and cameo glass. Most characteristic of the factory’s products were boldly shaped cases in purple glass, decorated with gilt plants or figures and carved and etched pieces overlaid in green and purple. The use of the iris flower was a particularly recurring motif. Iridescent glass became so popular that many other companies produced it to supply the public’s demand. Among these glassmakers were Heckert, Pallme Konig, Kralik, Goldberg and Adolf Zasche.
But the popularity of Jugendstil cameo and iridescent glass was fairly short lived. By 1900 the iridescent style was beginning to be rejected in favour of starker and simpler colour contrasts. Shapes lost their free blown asymmetry and irregularity and craftsmen started using simpler designs in decoration.
Today, Jugendstil glass in general is recognised by its slender forms and very rich iridescence or applied or cased decoration. It is generally more delicate than French Art nouveau glass and can also be more expensive on the market for those looking to buy and sell valuables of this type. Jugendstil glass can also vary in quality, from the superb Loetz and Lobmeyer pieces to quite poor generic examples by anonymous makers. Cased and cameo glass is much rarer than the iridescent glass. The latter was produced on a massive scale and thus survived in greater numbers. In terms of value, while signed pieces or those that can be attributed to the main glassmakers usually command the highest prices, unsigned items of rare design and decoration can fetch very high prices indeed.
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