All About Glass

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20th-Century Bohemian & Czech Glass Timeline

All About Glass

The history of glass in the Czech Republic dates from the 13th century, but it didn't became internationally known until the early 18th century when the Bohemians established a trade network, with merchants distributing the glassware throughout Europe, as well as to Jesuit missions in South America.  In the mid-20th century,  Czech designers and artists, working in the wake of World War II and under Communist rule, invented new ways of painting and creating sculptural forms in glass.

Late 19th Century


All kinds of glassmaking and glass decorating techniques are practiced in Bohemia, which include the making of experimental, colored glasses and the combined use of casing, flashing, cutting, engraving, enameling, and gilding for decoration.


The Art Nouveau style is dominant in European applied arts. Called Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, this style is known by many names, including Jugendstil (Germany), Sezessionstil (Austria), and Stile Liberty (Italy). Art Nouveau is recognized by its decorative treatment of natural imagery that emphasizes asymmetrical compositions and sinuous lines, or simple geometric patterns.For Bohemian artists, the Austrian capital of Vienna is an important cultural resource. The Viennese cultural scene continues to influence Bohemian artists into the 1920s and 1930s.


Czech Cubism, a theoretical, metaphysical artistic movement inspired by French Cubism, takes root. Prague is an important artistic capital.


With the outbreak of World War I, glassmaking activities slow down in Bohemia.


At the end of the war, the Austro-Hungarian Empire is dissolved and Czechoslovakia becomes an independent country. The term "Bohemian glass" usually refers to glass made in Bohemian lands until 1918; after 1918, the term "Czech glass" may be used.


This period between the two World Wars is characterized by an openness, freedom, and interchange with other European countries and cultural capitals that allowed a divergence of political opinions and artistic currents. This freedom and intellectual interest in the new art of the period is reflected in Czech glassmaking. Czech Cubism influences the Functionalist style that dominates Czech glass between the wars.


The Art Nouveau style is supplanted by the Art Deco. Named after the 1925 Paris Exposition des Art Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the Art Deco style is inspired by many sources, including geometric aspects of Art Nouveau, Cubism, the Bauhaus, and ancient and tribal art. In glass, the Art Deco style favors classical forms, emphasizing symmetry and angularity over the curving forms of Art Nouveau.


The international Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes is held in Paris. This is the first significant international exhibition for the new nation of Czechoslovakia and glass made at the specialized schools for glassmaking in the towns of Kamenický Šenov, Nový Bor, and Železný Brod is exhibited. These schools become important centers for glass design between the wars, and they continue to play a major role in glassmaking in Czechoslovakia.


The Functionalist aesthetic dominates glass design. Base geometric forms—such as the rectangle, circle, square, pyramid, and sphere—are emphasized. Some Czech enameled glass is especially interesting for its subject matter, which is clearly influenced by modern abstract painting. The boom in Czech glass production after 1918 slows dramatically after 1929 with the onset of the Depression.


World Exposition in Brussels. Czechoslovakia wins 14 prizes.


World Exposition in Paris. Czech glass wins the Grand Prix.


The Sudetenland (the mostly German-speaking border region of Czechoslovakia) is annexed by Nazi Germany, bringing an end to Czechoslovakia's short history as an independent republic. This region, which includes the towns of Kamenický Šenov, Nový Bor, and Železný Brod, is home to important glass factories and schools.


During the years of Nazi occupation and World War II, the Czech glass industry loses many markets in Europe and overseas. Jewish artists are persecuted and murdered, and many Czech avant-garde artists are put in concentration camps.


New York World's Fair. Czechoslovakia prepares an exhibition of glass for this world exposition, but withdraws at the last minute because of Nazi annexation. All universities in Czechoslovakia are closed.


World War II ends and Czechoslovakia is liberated. The new socialist government is headed by Eduard Beneš. Czech industries, including glassworks and the larger decorating workshops, are reorganized and reopened. Teaching resumes at the specialized glassmaking schools in Kamenický Šenov, Nový Bor, and Železný Brod and at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague.


The Communist Party becomes the strongest political party in Czechoslovakia. After years of occupation and war, glass factories in the northern towns of Nový Bor, Železný Brod, and elsewhere are in shambles. The restoration of industry and the reopening of schools are challenged by physical damages and by the expulsion of all Germans from Czechoslovakia. (Germans had ranked among the best glassblowers, refining masters, technical support staff, designers, and entrepreneurs). To fill the vacancies at Nový Bor and Železný Brod, young glass artists move from Prague to staff the schools and factories. These artists include some whose work is featured in this exhibition, such as Josef Hospodka, Stanislav Libenský, and René Roubícek. Many of these artists are graduates of the northern schools, and they understand the needs of local glass production.


The Communist Party gains full control of Czechoslovakia. Immediately, plans are undertaken to build a political system based on one party, to nationalize all private property, and to change the orientation of the economy to heavy industry and arms production. The artistic style designated as Socialist Realism becomes the required approach for all the arts. The heritage of Czech Cubist and avant-garde art, and the contemporary international art scene, are dismissed as "decadent Western culture." Czech artists become isolated from artistic developments in the rest of the world. Painting, sculpture and the graphic arts are used to illustrate political ideas, while architecture and the applied arts are restricted to purely decorative forms.


Sculpture by René Roubícek

During this period, there is intense political pressure and control exerted by the state. Czechoslovakia is hermetically sealed off from the West; this closed-door policy toward non-Communists is called the "Iron Curtain." Innovative and creative work in glass and other media is accomplished by artists who migrate to the applied arts to avoid persecution. A new school of painting on glass is established in the Prague Academy of Applied Arts, which is headed by Joseph Kaplický. An influential artist with a national reputation, Kaplický keeps up with Western trends. He insists that his students study a variety of media - including %%drawing%%, painting, ceramics, and sculpture - and apply them to glass. His pupils include many artists whose work is featured in this exhibition, including Lubomír Blecha, Václav Cigler, Bohumil Eliáš, Vladimír Jelínek, Marta Kerhartová-Perinová, Vladimír Kopecký, Stanislav Libenský, Oldrich Lipá, Vera Lišková, Jan Novotný, Ladislav Oliva, René Roubícek, Miluše Roubícková, Marie Stáhlíková, František Tejml, Dana Vachtová, Karel Vanura, Karel Wünsch, and Jirina Žertová.The architect and sculptor Karel Štipl is another influential teacher at the Academy of Applied Arts. His students include exhibition artists Jaroslavá Brychtová, Antonín Drobník, Jirí Harcuba, Pavel Hlava, Adolf Matura, and Vladimír Žahour.


With furnaces and glassmaking equipment readily available, small ateliers are formed within the large state-run glassmaking complexes, and artists pursue their own work on the side. Artistic experimentation - in glass - begins to thrive.


International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Milan (XI Triennale). Czech glass is exhibited for the first time internationally since the 1948 revolution. Visitors to the Czechoslovak Pavilion find extraordinary glass sculptures on a monumental %%scale%%. The 1957 Triennale documents the extraordinary boom in Czech glass that has taken place after 1953. The world fairs and expos become important venues for the exposure of Czech glass in the West.


The creative but isolated Czechoslovak artist intelligentsia take an active part in what Russian author Ilya Ehrenburg refers to as the "thaw," a period in which Communist ideological rigidity is somewhat relaxed following the revelation of Stalinist crimes. There is a new appreciation for individual freedom, yet artists still have no control over how, when, and where their work is exhibited and sold.


The Universal Exposition of Brussels. The Czechoslovak Pavilion is made of a new invention: "foam" glass. (A lightweight, opaque, and insulatingmaterial, foam glass is made of fused crushed or granulated glass that has been mixed with carbon or limestone.) The foundations of a new concept of Czech glassmaking are laid, which is the idea of using glass as a material for individual artistic expression, and the use of glass as a medium for architecture, sculpture, and painting.


The exhibition Glass 1959 is organized by The Corning Museum of Glass. This exhibition documents the world glass scene that is on the threshold of historic changes. One of the most important results of this exhibition is the documentation of the beginnings of the shift of glass from applied art to fine art.An important and large exhibition of Czech glass takes place in Moscow. Some artistic pieces are shown, including some abstract compositions that are not well received.


International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Milan (XII Triennale).


The American Studio Glass movement begins in Toledo, Ohio. American studio glass pioneers have little to no knowledge of Czech glass, and they are not aware of its use, by Czech artists, as a medium for architecture, painting, and sculpture.


Exhibition of Czech glass at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City (now The American Craft Museum). Large-%%scale%% sculpture and architectural pieces - which would interest most American studio glass artists - are not included in this exhibition, and so American artists had to wait to be exposed to what was happening in Czechoslovakia.


Universal Exposition, Montreal, Canada. The '67 Expo is an influential exhibition for the Czechs. Important, large-%%scale%% sculpture and one-of-a-kind vessels are exhibited. The foreign contacts gained by Czech artists at the Montreal Expo are particularly important, especially after the Soviet punitive invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Impressed by the way the Czechs combine glass, sculpture, painting, and architecture, many young American and European studio glass artists visit Czechoslovakia after the Expo. These artists include Jamie Carpenter, Dale Chihuly, Erwin Eisch, Marvin Lipofsky, and Harvey Littleton.


Czechoslovakia is invaded by 750,000 Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops. The changes that result from this occupation of Czechoslovakia are tragic in many respects, especially for artists. Immediately, the activities of independent associations and creative groups are banned, and cooperation with foreign, non-governmental institutions ceases. The implementation of neo-Stalinist cultural policy proves that artistic freedoms, among others, are ultimately irreconcilable with Communist rule.


A strict normalization process begins, with fewer art exhibitions and international events. In spite of the lowering of the Iron Curtain once again, Czech artists manage to teach, to work, and to survive under extremely repressive conditions.World Exposition in Osaka, Japan. Important architectural works in glass are exhibited.


New Glass: A Worldwide Survey is organized by The Corning Museum of Glass. This is the first international, traveling survey exhibition of contemporary studio glass to be organized by an American museum. The artworks chosen for inclusion illustrate how quickly the Studio Glass movement has grown since its inception in 1962.The Czech government allows a large number of Czech artists to participate in this international survey, including exhibition artists Antonín Drobník, Jirí Harcuba, Pavel Hlava, Vladimír Jelínek, Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslavá Brychtová, Vera Lišková, Ladislav Oliva, Miluše Roubícková, František Vízner, and Jirina Žertová. A new, younger generation of Czech artists, who become well-known for their work in glass, also participates.


Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová teach in the United States for the first time at Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. They are brought to the school by the American Studio Glass pioneer Dale Chihuly, who had founded Pilchuck in 1971. Their influence on American studio glass becomes as profound as their influence on contemporary Czech glass.


The 1989 Velvet Revolution ends Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, and Václav Havel becomes president. The Czech and Slovak Republics are established as independent nations in 1993. The glass industry in the Czech Republic is re-privatized. In 1993, Lobmeyr reopens its factory in Kamenický Šenov, which had been confiscated by the Communist government in 1951. Czech artists are allowed to build private studios, gain control over their work (how it is exhibited, and how, where, and to whom it is sold), and to freely travel and teach.


Published on October 19, 2011