CORNING, N.Y. – The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG), which showcases the largest collection of René Lalique materials at a public institution, is presenting 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.
The exhibition, which opened May 17, also provides 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. “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.
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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 women in the 1920s.
Complementing CMoG’s extensive permanent collection of Lalique objects, 14 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, D.C.; and the Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wis. The special exhibits “Rene Lalique: Enchanted by Glass” and “Designing for a New Century: Works on Paper by Lalique and his Contemporaries” are on view through January 4, 2015. Visit www.cmog.org for more information.