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Not simply a glass act; Emile Galle's work was so good it has been widely imitated - find out to tell the real from the fake.

IT WAS easily the biggest and best piece of glass by Emile Galle I've ever had the pleasure to handle. When I tell you it fetched PS4,000 in a local sale, you'll understand just why it was such a pleasure.

The 17-inch chunk of hand-blown cameo glass was impressive.

It was made at the turn of the century and showed a green woodpecker perched on the branch of a tree, patiently waiting to catch supper in the limpid opaline blue waters of a lily pond.

The unmistakeable Galle signature mark was proof of its excellence. It was made not necessarily by the French master's own hand but certainly to his design and under his strict scrutiny. It was simply superb.

What was fascinating, though, was that in the same sale was another piece bearing the same signature... only this time it was in the marquetry of a humble, yet charming, nest of two tables, the tops inlaid with marquetry, one depicting coastal cottages, the smaller with fishing boats at sea, They too dated from about 1900 and sold for PS460, despite one from the nest being missing.

And then last month, up pops this charming pottery of a hare, so rare that in all my years writing about antiques, I've never seen one before.

Others had. It was seen online by a collector in the Channel Islands who owns several, as well as a number of equally rare rabbits, also Galle made.

Keen to add it to his 'husk' - the collective name for the animals - he paid PS1,800 to secure it.

Which just goes to show what a Jack-of-all-trades Galle was: author glassmaker, cabinetmaker and ceramicist, he was master of them all.

His inspiration came from nature and Galle was one of the most naturalistic designers in the "New Art" movement. He was also intensely patriotic towards Lorraine, the region in France where he was born. Its forests are reflected in his work.

Many of his creations were inspired too by the words of contemporary writers. A desk, for example, is inlaid with a line from a verse by modern French poet Baudelaire.

It reads: "O forests of Lorraine who would whisper to one's soul, in secret, in one's sweet native tongue". The desk is one of his celebrated pieces to which he gave names. He called it La Foret de Lorraine (The forest of Lorraine).

However, it is for glass that Galle is best remembered, although he scar, which remains when the object is snapped off the glass blower's hollow metal rod through which he blows to form the shape of the object when it is in molten form. The scar is then ground away, leaving a small dimple-shaped, smooth depression.

Most French cameo glass made before 1930 will have a ground pontil, while modern pieces made by the moulding process do not.

However, inventive fraudsters can create the ground-out depression simply to deceive.

As ever, the best advice is to buy only where purchases are guaranteed.

seemed set to follow in his father's footsteps at first. He was born in Nancy in 1846, the son of a prosperous ceramics manufacturer who also had a shop selling glassware.

Initially, the young man trained in ceramic design, but moved on to experiment in glass in the 1880s. Early pieces were traditional, but at the Paris Exhibition of 1889, he showed his first attempts at cameo glass.

These were vases blown in one colour and then covered in glass of one or more different colours onto which was painted After the acid etching process, the pattern was left in relief.

It was the start of a mini-revolution in modern glassmaking techniques in which variations on the cameo theme were innumerable. Vases, lamps and perfume bottles poured from his cristallerie to eager customers.

Galle's enthusiasm and energy were such that he founded a business that went on to employ 300. He also influenced and trained a number of other glassmakers who subsequently imitated the master. None could better him, though. He personally designed and executed his major pieces, now mostly museum exhibits, while overseeing the entire production process of other wares.

Everything bears his signature trademark but, clearly, with such a huge output, not everything could be executed to a uniformly high standard.

Hand-carved cameo pieces are among the best, but lesser pieces were acid-etched and fire polished.

In 1901, Galle co-founded the Nancy School of Design, with himself as its head, driving the Art Nouveau movement forward in France. He died in 1904, after which his wife Henriette continued to make art glass, her pieces being marked with a star after the Galle signature.

His son-in-law Paul Drizet Galle subsequently took over running the firm, while Victor Prouve, painter, sculptor, engraver and once one of Galle's pupils, became the second president of the School of Nancy.

Without Galle's inspirational leadership and genius, things started to decline. The workforce was put onto repetitive production of the same uninspired objects and bulk output degraded the Galle name. The firm was affected badly by the outbreak of the First World War and production of authentic Galle pieces ceased in 1936.

Which leads on to the problem of telling the difference between good and average Galle glass and those made to deceive by modern processes, or others simply emulating Galle's style. With a little experience, it's easy when placed side by side - average cameo vases are drab and poorly executed - but not so when an individual piece turns up with nothing authentic with which it can be compared.

MORE AFFORDABLE OPTIONS ROMANIAN glassmakers are particularly adept at making high-quality Galle-style cameo glass but to avoid copyright issues, they are marked "TIP" in similarly raised glass after what passes at first glance as a Galle signature. We own such a piece, a lamp, purchased in Prague, which is stunning when lit but unaffordable, to us at least, if it had been antique. TIP is the Romanian word for "type." " The problem is that unscrupulous dealers have been known to grind away the TIP mark, which, when done professionally, leaves no trace. Others attempting to explain away the mark claim erroneously that it indicated a piece made by a Galle apprentice, or else it was made for export. One of the most reliable ways of dating Galle glass is the ground-out pontil mark on the base. The pontil is a circular rough glass
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Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:9SRIL
Date:Dec 29, 2018
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