My roots lie deep in the woods under moss, around springs. -Inscription on the studio door of Emile Galie, Nancy, France.
EMILE GALLE, poet, botanist, designer, led the Art Nouveau artists of Nancy into the dark forest of the imagination. He taught them to look not for what was pretty in nature, but for the secrets that scurry by, glimpsed from the corner of your eye, for the grotesque and even obscene life forms that seep from under stones, for the rustle in the dark, the shadow in the daylight.
Around the turn of the century, magic springs of new design were bubbling up in Vienna, in Scotland, in Paris, Barcelona and Italy. The town of Nancy was one of the artesian wells of the Art Nouveau.
Louis Majorelle, the cabinetmaker; Eugene Vallin, a cabinetmaker, sculptor and architect; Victro Prouve, an artist who was director of the Ecole des Beaux Arts; Jacques Gruber, the master ironmonger, were others who lavished their skill at crafts, their genius at design on a vast outpouring of furniture, glassware, architectural ornament, jewelry and objects of art.
"Daum, One Hundred Years of Glass and Crystal," a show of the work of one of the most important of the Nancy companies, will be open at the Smithsonian's Museum of History and Technology through August in the Hall of Ceramics and Glass on the third floor. The exhibit has 100 glassworks, one for each year of the company.
The show is important for many reasons. In the past five years, according to the Gray Letter, an antiques newsletter, the prices of Art Nouveau have gone up by 100 percent, an astounding rise for a style that only two decades or so ago was scorned as decadent.
(Another exhibit, "Art Nouveau in Baltimore Collections," will be open July 10 through Sept. 2 at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Alastair Duncan, Christie's New York vice president, has written several books on Art Nouveau, including the invaluable "Art Nouveau and Art Deco Lighting," published by Simon and Schuster. Duncan will speak July 11 at a luncheon in conjunction with the Baltimore show. Reservations must be made by calling 301-396-6314 by June 30.)
Daum glass may even be considered one of the last bargains of the Art Nouveau period. Perhaps because not as much has sold in the auction market, the prices of Daum have not set the sort of records as have Tiffany and Galle glass.
Barbara Deisroth, Sotheby Parke Bernet's curator or 19th-and 20th-century works of art, says she considers French as the highest quality of all the Art Nouveau glass. "We don't see the best of it here. You really have to see it in place to appreciate it.The first time I saw it in Nancy, it hit me like a rock." She says the best of Daum "is as good as the best of Galle. But there aren't that many great Daum pieces." A piece of Galle glass was expected to go for $100,000 in a Geneva sale.
Duncan said (by phone) the other day that "I have been over to the Daum workshops several times. Some of the work is super, though it hasn't been as highly regarded as Galle. Daum didn't have the volume. Not as many great pieces of Daum have come on the auction market. A good many are sold by dealers." As a result, Duncan says that Daum lamps bring $8,000-$9,000 while Galle lamps can sell for $46,000. "I expect the prices to stay strong and even go up," he said.
Nancy McClelland, of Phillips auction house in New York, says that Daum is coming up in her opinion. "The pieces made by Daum in conjunction with Louis Marjorelle sell especially well. I was very surprised the other day that a Daum etched and enamaled 3 1/2-inch glass with a bad chip, sold for $300, twice the estimate. It seems to me that the difference in price between Daum and Galle is narrowing. Recently a Daum lamp with a scenic overlay brought $3,000."
The price of Daum is likely to go up as a result of the current show, circulated through the country by the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service.
The Smithsonian show also is important because it helps establish Nancy's rightful place in the history of the Art Nouveau movement, at last out from under the shadow of Paris.
"Between 1896 and 1910 more houses in the new style were built in Nancy, relative to its population, than in any other city," writes Bernard Champignuelle, in the catalogue to the exhibit.
"Clearly, the curving voluptuously sculpted facades and the originality of the staircases and roofs marked an artistic revival and demonstrated an elegance of spirit."
Perhaps before too long, some enterprising museum will get itself together to do a whole show on Nancy fin de siecle.
In the early 1870s, Alsace-Lorraine was annexed by the Germans, as spoils of the Franco-Prussian War. Jean Daum and his family, great French patriots, were among the many French sympathizers who fled to France. Daum bought an existing glass company and set about the business in 1878. At first Jean Daum and his son, Auguste, made simple utilitarian drinking glasses and such, for the Cristallerie Daum.
Antonin Daum, after graduating from engineering school, joined the company in 1887 and opened the Verrerie de Nancy, the company's art-glass department. The early works were, in the 19th-century tradition, eclectic designs. In the show you can see a vase ornamented with fleurs de lys and crosses of Lorraine (1892); a figure of Rene II, duke of Lorraine, off to battle; and a chanticleer (rooster). They are apt representations of the bad taste of the times.
But before long, Daum was swept up in Nouveau Nancy. As the catalogue points out, it took some time to put together the stocks of colored glass and the workshops necessary to make the elaborate Art Nouveau pieces.At first, of course, Daum Freres was clearly less successful than Galle. But gradually, they worked out their own colors, shapes and techniques. Galle, however, was himself the master craftsman and the superb artist. The Daums were managers.
Duncan writes, "Professional men (though they no doubt quickly acquired a working knowledge of the various glassmaking techniques), theirs was the task of assembling as creative and balanced a team of designers, artists and artisans as possible. Antonin himself, in fact, was to refer on several occasions to his own manual maladroitness.
"During its early years, the firm included such widely known Art Nouveau exponents as Jacques Gruber (from 1894 to 1897), Henry Berge (from 1900) and Amalric Waltet."
In 1893, Daum electrified-literally-the design world by introducing the first electric lamps made of art glass. The lampes-fleurs were first shown at the great Art Nouveau 1900 international exposition in Paris.
These remain the most beautiful of the Daum production. Many were made of acid-etched cameo glass, sometimes engraved. Almost as florid as the lamps were the comments of a contemporary critic quoted in Duncan's book:
"...On the shades flights of bats, coleoptera and lepidoptera, which come as if attracted by the light. Also, on a wrought iron base, an eglantine in full bloom, and on a hemispherical shade, the petals of a hedgerow rose."
The most coveted Daum lamps are those whose bases were made by Louis Majorelle. In these, the design seems to flow up from the base and blossom at the shade. The bases by Groult and Brandt are not as successful.
In general, the Galle and Daum lamps sometimes lack that wonderful unity of line when the form and the decoration are all of a piece. The greatest Art Nouveau work, has this quality. For instance, other designers have made a lamp inspired by the dancer Loie Fuller, using her skirt as the shade. A lamp pretending to be a sun flower has the bulb as the seedpod in the center. Louis Tiffany of the United States, Charles Ashbee of England, Raoul Larche of Paris and Gustav Gurschner and Loetz Witwe of Vienna are among those who were particularly adroit at incorporating the light into the design.
The Daum exhibition and its catalogue are especially valuable for straightening out in your mind the various types of glass.
Here are a few definitions of Daum techniques illustrated by works in the show.
Crystal is more brillant and has a musical note when hit (gently please) because of the addition of lead. The crystal pieces in the show have much of that chunky '50s look of Steuben glass of the same period.
Martele, hammered or wrought, is the term applied to Daum glass faceted by engraving. A good example in the show is a vase with blue acacias.
Triples are vases made of three colors of glass, layered while they are hot. The color is revealed by the engraving, the martele work. Often decoration is applied with a wheel coated with emery paste, working in some cases on five layers of glass. The orchids vase, an itaglio and cameo form, is one of the most beautiful.
Applications, were pats or incrustations applied when the glass is hot. A vase with a waterlily (and what looks like boiled eggs), and a vase from which grapes seem to be growing are made by the glassblower using this difficult technique.
Pate de verre is cast in a mold using the lost wax process. It too has a certain amount of lead. The method was rediscovered at Daum by Henry Cros and Jacques Despret. Amaltic Walter, a ceramicist, perfected the technique, using glass more in the manner of ceramics, beginning in 1904. The flat pate de verre was used sometimes in place of stained glass. A remarkable "Sunrise" screen in the exhibit is particularly interesting.
Unless properly lighted, the Daum glass to me sometimes looks dark, muddy and gloomy-the lamps are certainly the pick because they carry their illumination with them. But the Daum glass of the 1920-39 period is transparent, with beautifully executed decorations. Among my favorites in the show are a vase with red berries and a living-room lamp in a caramel color engraved in high relief.
After World War I, according to Duncan, Antonin Daum went into partnership with nephews, Paul and Henri, and son-in-law, Pierre Froissart. Despite the depression of 1929, the frim survived, in part because of an order of 70,000 sets of crystal tableware for the ocean liner Normandie, a great Art Moderne design. Paul Daum, a French partriot like Jean Daum, was killed in 1943 while fighting in the French Resistance.
The current president-director is Pierre de Cherisey-Daum. The catalogue of the show was written by Noel Daum, of the family. The objects all come from the collections at Daum et Cie. Coordinators of the show at the Museum of History and Technology are Sheila Machlis Alexander and J. Jefferson Miller. Nadya Makovenyio was the exhibition designer.
If this show whets your enthusiasm for this period of glassmaking, you should take a trip to the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk and the Virginia Museum in Richmond. They have extraordinary Art Nouveau and Art Deco collections. CAPTION: Picture 1, a Daum lamp with winter cherry (1914); Picture 2, a vase with sweet peas (1911); Picture 3, a vase with orchids (1914); Picture 4, vases with red berries (1920) and with blue grapes (1923). National Musuem of History and Technology