Vintage View: The luminous legacy of Lalique beguiles

The luminous legacy of Lalique glass beguiles Kya deLongchamps.

There are times, despite my stodgy reservations, when I would truly love to be Kim Kardashian. If I were that feted Kimmy, I could stick a goldplated pencil between my hooked bejazzled nails and neatly rap out an order for the new Lalique “Fighting Fish” sculpture without a second thought.

€930? I don’t think my relationship with Himself would survive that 6cm x 6cm crystal treat even in a patinated limited edition.

I did at one time raise Siamese fighting fish. They are luxuriantly and “violently beautiful” to paraphrase Lalique, especially when randy or otherwise enraged. If you press your face to the glass of the tank (as Lalique’s press release put it prosaically) “they undulate and intertwine like coloured veils in a spectacular aquatic ballet”.

In defence of poisons combatants, the male fighters are equally good lovers and fathers – tenderly building a bubble nest for their offspring.

Lalique has a century-long, respected history in the most exquisite art glass as we know it today. Founder René Lalique (1860-1945) not only dominated this field, but is regarded by many as the visionary father of modern fine jewellery. Lalique glass is widely copied, replicated and faked.

In the Far East, artisans execute such spectacular skill and attention to detail, it’s difficult for the glassy-eyed beginner to separate the inspiration from the authentic pieces still handcrafted in Wingen-sur-Moder in Alsace, France.

This season the new collection, Aquatique, swims elegantly back to the magnificent underwater themes explored by René in the 1920s and 30s. These younger koi, carp, and sharks are perfect Art Deco-inspired additions for the interior trending of shameless luxury and decadence of 2019.

The forms of the glass are traditional – bowls, tall baluster vases, individual sculptures, decanters and paperweights. I’ve never seen anyone dump flowers into a Lalique vase — let’s not be the first. These are cabinet treasures.

Echoes of the delicacy and skill of the Renaissance glass houses and the formality of Roman and Greek classicism are all here. With a dense glass, fish appear to swim into and out of the medium — breaking the surface tension.

Cameo glass was enthusiastically revived at the end of the 1900s in England, America and France. Combined with lustre treatments using mineral and metallic salts, cutting, and applied materials in a variety of colour and texture, they had an irresistible, universal appeal.

Following highly celebrated exhibitions, the decorative glass trade took off in France in a few short years. The aristocracy, rising nouveau riche and cultured elite across Europe couldn’t get enough of fabulous gems from Lalique, Émile Gallé and Daum of Nancy for their parlours, galleries, studios and public spaces. It was glass for the higher classes, never the masses, and due to the intensity of the process, even a small contemporary piece of Lalique still starts in the low hundreds.

René Lalique championed mould-blown, furnace-fired glass with hand-finishing. Kept to a single colour (originally René favoured clear glass), they could be replicated tenderly from the master’s work with dedicated moulds and delicately hand-finished once cool and stable from the furnace.

The work in its symmetry, detail and level of design is on par with that of the goldsmith, a mark of René Lalique’s original apprenticeship under the eye of jeweller Louis Aucoc (1850-1932).

Even in a clear crystal, artisans use the varying opacity of the glass thickness, reflection, refraction and the splitting of light to make abstract forms and creatures writhe in shifting daylight.

They fete their founder as “the sculptor of light”. Along with new techniques Lalique rediscovered several ancient forms of decoration for the firm, including cire perdue (lost wax), normally used in metalwork.

There’s still is a risqué eroticism to the Lalique designs worth looking for even in the modern collections. They truly broke the mould and raised eyebrows a hundred years ago.

The 1920s saw the appearance of bold modern dance movement including the shocking near-naked undulations of American Josephine Baker, who debuted in Revue Nègre at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Fashion, art and craft integrated these societal shifts into the work.

Clear or opalescent, with their three-dimensional quality, Lalique glass is closer to sculpture than conventional decorative glass pieces, mouth-watering objet d’art with a luminous inner life.

The coloured glass of Lalique was made popular by René’s son Marc from the mid-1940s following the death of his father. The full-on, deeper colours beloved of the Japanese are not to everyone’s taste. Some of the most beautiful contemporary work combines clear and coloured glass, and there is generally a choice of colourways.

You can still buy a Clairefontaine perfume bottle with its sprig of lily of the valley in blue set as a stopper. The gardens of Clairefontaine in Paris was one of René Lalique’s major sources of inspiration.

To see a wide range of jewels, drawings, perfume bottles, tableware items, chandeliers, radiator mascots and vases, the Musée Lalique displays more than 650 exceptional pieces created by René Lalique and his heirs. It is located at Rue du Hochberg, 67290 Wingen-sur-Moder, Alsace.

You can even stay or have a smashing wedding at the sumptuous Hôtel & Restaurant Lalique at Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey, prickling with Lalique lighting and decoration from chandeliers to crystal dining tables floating on acanthus leaves and wine served from a crystal wine barrel, lafauriepeyragueylalique.com.

The better quarters of Saint-Ouen and Clignancourt (marché aux puces) in Paris also showcase the master. For suppliers and to order new products online check out lalique.com.

In second-hand art glass, perfection is crucial. Light rubs to a thick glass foot are acceptable, but otherwise, no chips, nibbles or knocks.

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