AUSTRIAN ART GLASS
Experimenting with unusual shapes and new decorative techniques, the Jugendstil glassmakers of the German Empire produced brilliant glassware
In the late 19th century, when art nouveau was sweeping France, Britain and America,
a very similar design movement sprang up in Austria, Germany and the Habsburg
Empire. It was known as Jugendstil, which literally means 'youth style', and the best designs
appeared in the magazine Jugend.
It found its most eloquent expression in the glassware of the time
Viennese and Bohemian glassmakers experimented with shapes and decoration, resulting in a brief but brilliant flowering of glass design in the years from 1870 to 1900.
Bohemia had been an important centre of glass-making since the 16th century.
By the late I 9th century, however, its designs had become stereotyped.
Reacting against this, Jugendstil craftsmen experimented with the very nature of glass, its translucent effects and its malleability when molten.
Originality and artistry were the order of the day; the function of a
bowl or vase soon became secondary to its interesting shape, fascinating iridescence or etched, enamelled
or applied decoration.
Some Jugendstil designs were slender, elegant and symmetrical. But there were also
interesting asymmetrical shapes, produced by hand-shaping the molten glass.
Bowls could be pinched in at the waist or rim, and the necks
of vases pulled and twisted into undulating 'goose-neck' attitudes and the plant-like forms that are so typical of art nouveau.
A range of decorative techniques came into
their own. Iridescence, which appears naturally on glass that has been buried for long periods, was seen on Roman glass that was being excavated at the time.
The same effects could be produced by coating glass with metallic oxides and heating it in the furnace.
Gold oxide produced a ruby lustre, silver a yellow lustre, and platinum, silvery reflections. Copper (for green), bismuth a~ uranium oxides were also used.
Cased glass, made of two or more layers of different coloured glass, and cameo glass, in which the outer layer of cased glass was carved or acid-etched, were also important.
Both had been used earlier in the 19th century but, in the hands of Jugendstil craftsmen, exciting new designs emerged.
Combed decoration, another technique used by Jugendstil glassmakers, was achieved by adding threads of coloured glass to a molten
'gather' and dragging them across the surface to produce festoons and marbled patterns. Interesting effects were also produced by glassware that imitated hardstones such as onyx, cornelian, chalcedony and aventurine.
Metal was used in Jugendstil glass in a variety ofways. Some pieces had metal handles, stands or rims, others had designs in applied silver or gilt.
Designs were sometimes formed by trapping gold dust between separate layers of glass.
Jugendstil glassware can usually be recognised by its slender forms and rich iridescence, or applied or cased decoration. It
is usually more delicate than French art nouveau glass, and is also rarer.
The quality of Jugendstil glassware,
including that by such major names as Loetz and Lobmeyr, ranges from superb to undistinguished.
Cased and cameo pieces are rarer than iridescent vases, which were made in the largest numbers and are thus the most
frequentIy seen today.
Many of them are unmarked, and while some can be ascribed to the more important factories, the individual products of lesser factories are generally rather difficult to identify.
Jugendstil glass is valued according to manufacturer, and on the reputation of the individual designer if he can be identified. The
most highly valued pieces were made by Lobmeyr or Loetz.
Close on their heels come the factories of F Heckert and
Harrach. Work by Harrach was highly regarded at the turn of the century. The factory's products included
copies of Tiffany vases, cameo and cased glass and of course, iridescent glass.
Ludwig Moser & Sons, of Karlsbad, are renowned tor their carved and cameo glass.
Most characteristic of the factory's products were boldly shaped vases in purple glass decorated with gilt plants or figures, and carved and etched pieces
overlaid in green and purple. The iris was a recurring motif.
Iridescent glass enjoyed a great vogue and was widely produced in Austria, Germany and Bohemia.
Among the lesser-known factories were PalIme Konig, Kralik, Goldberg and Adolf Zasche.
DESIGNERS OF GLASS
Noted designers at the end of the 19th century included Josef Maria Olbrich, Otto Prutscher, Rudolf Bakalowitz and Koloman Moser.
Together with members of the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, they all worked on commissions for the Viennese firm of
E Bakalowitz & Sohue. Their original designs were executed by various Bohemian factories, including
A signature can add to the value of a piece.
Much Loetz glass, however, is unsigned, but 'Loetz Austria' or 'Loetz, Klostermuhle' appears on some pieces.
The cachet of a signature should not blind a buyer to the real value of a piece.
An anonymous piece of good design may be a better buy than a signed but unremarkable vase produced by a prestigious factory.