Artisan in glass and creator of family firm Cristal Lalique
René Lalique was a French glass designer, jeweller, furniture designer, painter, and sculptor. He was born in 1860 in a small town in the province of Champagne. The family moved to Paris, and Lalique was apprenticed to the well-known Paris goldsmith, Louis Aucoc, and later enrolled in some courses at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs.
His early jewellery designs, stylistically, conventionally and technically unsophisticated, were sold to various jewellery manufacturers and were published in the trade journal Le Bijou. After about two years of study in London, Lalique returned to Paris to study sculpture under Justine Lequien at the Ecole Bernard Palissy. By 1881 he was wholly devoted to goldsmithing, designing at first for other jewellers on a freelance basis, then in 1886 officially starting up his own fully staffed workshop.
By the turn of the century, Lalique’s revolutionary, beautifully crafted, profoundly nature-inspired jewellery – rings, bracelets, brooches, necklaces, hair combs, even purse frames and pocket watches were all the rage for the French elite.
The actress Sarah Bernhardt and the oil magnate Calouste Gulbenkian were his premier customers (Lisbon’s Gulbenkian Museum has the finest collection of Lalique jewellery). Like no one before him, Lalique combined precious metals and gems with semi-precious stones, ivory, rock crystal, and even glass and enamel to create wearable objects of the most exquisite beauty.
A chalice of ivory, enamel and gold and a silver and glass centrepiece of about 1902 in the form of a pond and four nymphs. He also produced larger metal objects, such as a full-length bronze mirror, its sinuous silhouette frame the body of two serpents. His inspiration came from various sources, from the Orient, classical literature, Symbolist verse, directly nature and his rich imagination.
Experiments with Glass
Although Lalique’s splendid jewels were produced well into the first decade of the 20th century, he had already in the 1890s begun to work with the medium of glass, which he incorporated in bits and pieces into his jewellery and which he shaped into lovely vases and bowls using the cire perdue or lost-wax, technique.
By 1902 Lalique’s experiments with glass had blossomed, and he expanded the retail end of his business considerably. He opened a shop in the fashionable Place Vendôme in 1905. Near Lalique’s Paris shop was the newly formed establishment of the perfumer François Coty, with whom Lalique was soon collaborating on the design and manufacture of glass bottles. Until now, perfumes had been sold in plain pharmaceutical bottles and then transferred to a fancy container in madame’s collection. Coty’s and Laliques’s novel concept was to present perfumes in specially designed bottles. Over the years, Lalique was to produce fragrance bottles and other items and often their cardboard packaging for Coty, Roger et Gallet, Molinard, Houbigant, Worth and numerous other perfumers.
1920s Lalique’s Zenith
The 1920s production for Lalique was prolific. He designed 350 vases and bowls in moulded clear, coloured or iridescent glass, tableware, car mascots, jewellery, lighting, and scent bottles. He rediscovered the highly stable ‘demi-crystal and created one-off pieces by the cire perdue process. He exploited the use of glass in indirect interior lighting. In 1932 he produced a wide range of glass designs for the 1935 ocean liner Normandie. Others widely copied his work, including Sabino, Hunebelle, and Etling in France and glassmakers worldwide. From 1945, the business was supervised by his son Marc Lalique. The firm is a member of Comité Colbert.
His work (jewellery and silver incorporating enamel and glass) was first shown at the 1894 Paris Salon of the Société des Artistes français and the 1900 Paris ‘Exposition Universelle.’ His work was shown at 1902 Turin ‘Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna’; 1903 at Grafton Galleries, London; 1905 at Agnew’s, London. In 1897, he was appointed the Chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur. His first exhibition showing his glassware was in 1912. His work was displayed throughout the 1925 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriel Modernes’, including at his pavilion. His work was shown at the 1934 (II) Salon de la Lumiére, Paris.
Dormer, P. (1991). The illustrated dictionary of twentieth-century designers: The key personalities in Design and the applied arts. Mallard Press.