Glass Atelier: René Jules Lalique

Born in Aÿ-en-Champagne, France, René-Jules Lalique (1860-1945) is considered the indisputable master of jewellery design in the Art Nouveau style. Fascinated by the three central themes of floral, fauna and the female form, his lyrical and jewel-like compositions are the perfect encapsulation of the late 19th century pre-Art Deco era.

Lalique followers were less attracted by stately luxury and more by his wildly inventive designs which he achieved by freely mixing precious and semiprecious stones with blown glass, ivory and other unexpected materials. His use of enamel techniques like champlevé and Plique-à-jour (see glossary) also gave him a nearly unlimited color palette, which he used to create shimmering Art Nouveau versions of peacocks, hummingbirds, dragonflies, and the female form. Famous actresses, kings and queens were among his patrons.

At the epochal 1900 Universal Exposition in Paris, Lalique displayed over one hundred pieces of his creations, laid out like “a meadow of wildflowers in vitrines …against a twilight sky and backdrops of bronze butterfly women.” He was one of several designers (including Louis Comfort Tiffany) vying to establish an international reputation. He succeeded.

Pendant with wasps and prunus, 1904. France. Musee Lalique

Today, Lalique (now the Swiss-owned Lalique Group) produces an array of luxury products in five main categories: jewellery, decorative items, interior design, perfumes, and art. Reproductions of designs by René Lalique have increased since 2009.

More Lalique creations

Champlevé:  an enamelling technique in which cells are carved, etched, die struck, or cast into the surface of a metal object, and filled with vitreous enamel. The piece is then fired until the enamel fuses, and when cooled, the surface of the object is polished. The uncarved portions of the original surface remain visible as a frame for the enamel designs. The technique has been used since ancient times, though it is no longer so commonly used today.

Plique-à-jour gave: an enameling technique where the enamel is applied in cells, similar to cloisonné, but with no backing in the final product, so light can shine through the transparent or translucent enamel. It is effectively a miniature version of stained-glass and is considered very challenging technically.

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