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Galle, Emile

Emile Galle, (1846-1904) was a French designer of glass, furniture and jewellery and leader of the Nancy School in the applied arts. He was undoubtedly the most outstanding of the French glassmakers of the late nineteenth century.

Born in Nancy, the son of the owner of a prosperous glass and faience factory, he studied botany, drawing and landscape painting and from 1862 to 1864, the techniques of glass production at Weimar Art School in Germany. After further travels, study and work he returned to Nancy in 1873, and began to produce fine pottery, jewellery, and furniture in his own glass studio. In 1874 he was given control of the family glass business.

Galle began experimenting with coloured glass, attempting to improve the range of colours without diminishing the transparency of the material. These early experiments culminated in the vivid blue glass, created by means of cobalt oxides, which came to the attention of the discriminating public at the Exposition Universelle in 1878 in Paris, where he received four gold medals.

At the Exposition Universelle of 1889 in Paris his glass art became the icon of the Art Nouveau movement.

He also opened a carpentry shop employing cabinet makers to produce furniture, specialising in marquetry using botanical themes as his inspiration.

In the ensuing decade, he continued to experiment with various colours, eventually achieving success with the full range of colour from deep purple to bright orange. Throughout his long career, however, Galle was pre-occupied with the decoration of glassware rather than the manipulation or transformation of the substance itself. The earliest type of embellishment consisted of enamelling, a technique which he gradually improved. Galle's finest glassware was produced at the turn of the century.

By the time of his death in 1904, his workshop had become a highly successful business with a considerable output, though quality was never sacrificed to quantity.

Galle always signed his works "Galle". The signature may be engraved, acid-etching or enamelled.

Up to the time of the First World War, the factory continued under the guidance of Galle's friend, the painter Victor Prouve, and glass made in this ten-year period (1904-14) continued to bear the word "Galle" preceded by a small star.

Production was halted by the course of the war, but some attempts at reviving the business afterwards were only partly successful and the Galle factory finally closed in 1935.

Because of the popularity and high prices of Galle glass the field is attractive to copyists and forgers. If the item is not a genuine Galle piece, and the seller recognises this, the description will include terms such as "in the style of Galle", "bears the signature of Galle" or "in the style of Emile Galle". If the seller is trying to pass off the item as genuine Galle, experience gained in handling Galle glass is the best way to tell a forgery from an original

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