Many new collectors probably aren’t aware that Emile Gallé, the French master of cameo glass, worked in a variety of mediums including ceramics, metal and furniture. Prices for his cameo glass range from several thousand dollars up. His furniture and ceramics, when you can find them, also run in the thousands of dollars.
His motifs of flowers and insects were used not only on his glass, other objects were influenced by Japanese designs, popular in the late 19th century.
Gallé type parquetry stand, unsigned. Photo courtesy James Julia Auctions, Fairfield, Maine
Gallé (1846-1904) began experimenting with colored glass. His earliest pieces were in vivid blue. As he progressed and experimented, he became more interested in the decoration rather than the color or shape. These pieces used gilding and enameling on white, amber and transparent green glass. By 1884, he was still working on nature motifs, all one-of-a-kind pieces. However, by the 1890s he began mass producing his work. The designs were cut by acid rather than a wheel, into what came to be known as “cameo glass.”
During the same period a different version of cameo glass was being made by English artisans. The decoration, for the most part, was in Grecian style with figures. It resembled the cameo jewelry of the 19th century.
Gallé cameo glass used a technique similar to that used in 18th century scent bottles. Those designs were cut by acid through layers of opaque glass. Since his glass was mass produced, much went to European and Middle East markets.
The use of varied colored casing of glass on a base of translucent or transparent metal achieved the result prized by collectors. The work involved blowing into shape, etching out the mass with acid and using a wheel to engrave the final details.
Examples of Gallé produced jewelry are rare. Following the Art Nouveau motifs he made the pieces with glass-paste and enamel.
He used the same natural forms in his furniture designs, beginning in 1885. While much was made for the mass market he also accepted commissions for custom pieces.He gave the pieces exotic names that matched their equally exotic form and designs. Many were inlaid with various colors of parquetry. The same attention was given to the designs of such humble objects as wall brackets, sewing tables and bedroom suites.
CLUES: Problems for collectors are the many imitators not only of his glass but furniture. Some originally unsigned pieces have been signed by others using his name. Over the last 10 years many faked Gallé cameo glass vases have come to market. The bases are molded rather than having polished and ground pontil marks. What was originally signed in Cameo, Gallé type, will have the word “type” removed.
Check for a depression near the signature where the word was removed. To further confuse collectors there are a variety of signatures and marks used on authentic Gallé glass. Some resemble Japanese calligraphy. Other times the signature can consist of unrecognizable scrawls. Generally pieces made after his death are signed with a star beside “Gallé.”
Many companies made furniture in the Gallé style. His pieces had inlaid signatures.
Anne Gilbert is a nationally syndicated columnist, author of eight antiques and collectibles books, and is well known for her lectures to business and professional groups. She is a member of the Newspaper Features Council and Society of Illustrators. She can be reached via e-mail at Antique2@bellsouth.net.