Biographical / Historical
Emile Gallé (1846-1904) was a celebrated French designer and one of the leaders of the Art Nouveau movement. Born in 1846, in the Eastern French town of Nancy, Gallé was the son of a successful faience and furniture manufacturer. He attended the Lycee Impérial in Nancy and in 1862, at the age of sixteen, he began to travel across Europe studying mineralogy, art history and botany. After returning home in 1864, Gallé spent three years studying glassmaking at one of his father’s workshops in Meisenthal. He also continued to travel in order to develop his knowledge of glass; by visiting museums he was introduced to techniques such as enameling and cameo glass. By 1874 his father retired and Gallé took charge of the family business. A year later he married Henriette Grimm.
Gallé believed that glass vessels should be more than just functional containers. Therefore, he combined his love of nature and knowledge of glass techniques in order to produce unique works of art. He used deeply colored and heavy opaque glass, layered in several thicknesses, to form his vessels and he decorated them with enameled flowers and insects, whose shapes were copied directly from nature. He also experimented with different techniques such as wheel cutting, acid etching, casing and using metallic foils and air bubbles in his designs. In 1885 he also opened a carpentry shop and began producing furniture. Gallé showcased both his furniture and Impressionist glass objects at the 1889 Paris International Exhibition, where he was awarded a Grand Prix and a Gold Medal.
In 1894 Gallé established a new workshop in Nancy known as “Cristallerie d’Emile Gallé.” He employed a large amount of master craftsmen while he supervised all aspects of production. This new workshop enabled Gallé to mass produce pieces of art glass while using industrial techniques, which was an incredible innovation in the field of glassmaking. At the 1900 International Exhibition in Paris, Gallé displayed not only objects adorned in the naturalistic designs for which he had become famous but also a working glass-maker’s kiln with a complete set of tools. In 1901 he founded the École de Nancy to promote the Art Nouveau style and foster a continuing tradition of creative craftsmanship. He remained President of the school until his death from leukemia in 1904. Gallé’s widow operated the workshop after his passing. All of the glass being manufactured continued to bear Gallé’s signature, though a star was engraved alongside the name to indicate that it was produced after his death. Due to dwindling business, all production ceased in 1936.
Arwas, V. (1987). Glass: Art nouveau to art deco. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Macklowe Gallery. Emile Gallé. Retrieved from http://www.macklowegallery.com/education.asp/art+nouveau/Artist+Biographies/antiques/Decorative+Artists/education/Emile+Gall%26%23233%3B/id/8
Warmus, W. (1984). Emile Gallé: Dreams into glass. Corning, NY: The Corning Museum of Glass.