All About Glass

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All About Glass

The Compagnie des Verreries et Cristalleries de Baccarat, the most famous name in French glass, was founded in 1764 by Monseigneur de Montmorency-­Laval, the bishop of Metz, as a way to utilize the wood on the heavily forested land of his estate. In its early years, the factory operated under the name Verreries de Sainte-Anne (after the patron saint of the glassworks’ chapel). It was built in the small town of Baccarat, near Lunéville in Lorraine, and its location along the river Meurthe provided ready transportation for raw materials and finished wares.

Economic changes stemming from the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars made production and sales difficult, and the factory changed hands several times before it was acquired by Aimé-Gabriel d’Artigues, owner of a glass factory in the Belgian town of Vonêche. At the king’s request, D’Artigues began to make lead glass at Baccarat, the type of glass he had been producing in Belgium. Although he supplied parts to Marie-Jeanne-Rosalie Désarnoud-Charpentier, manager of L’Escalier de Cristal (see chapter 1), he did not manufacture his own glass furniture or other large pieces. When his health declined, he sold his factory in 1823.

Baccarat was awarded gold medals for tableware and chandeliers it exhibited at several national expositions in Paris between the 1820s and the 1840s. In 1832, Baccarat and a rival glasshouse, the Compagnie des Cristalleries de St. Louis in Moselle, joined with Parisian wholesalers to create Launay, Hautin & Cie. This firm operated showrooms in Paris and was the exclusive outlet for the products of both glasshouses until 1857, when it was dissolved. From that time, Baccarat’s own warehouse and workshops were located at Launay’s former address. Maintaining impressive Parisian showrooms was vital to French glass manufacturers, especially those that wanted to expand their markets outside the country. In the 1830s, when colored glass and pressed glass were added to Baccarat’s product line, the company actively sought new customers in other parts of Europe and in North and South America. By then, the factory employed about 700 workers.

At the 1855 world’s fair in Paris, Baccarat displayed a pair of candelabra that stood more than 17½ feet tall. Each was equipped with 90 candles. There was also a 16-foot chandelier. One publication commented: “Nearly opposite MM. Halphen’s ... is a Nave stall glistening with splendid specimens of French glass manufactures. The most prominent contributions to this stall are the two great green and white candelabra sent by the Compagnie des Cristalleries de Baccarat. These immense piles of solid glass are continually compared with the great candelabrum by Osler … The balustrade of this stall is of malachite crystal.”1 This is the first recorded use of color in the making of these mammoth candelabra. The English firms of F. & C. Osler and Jonas Defries & Sons had followed suit by the 1860s.

French influence in the Near East was strong in the 1860s and 1870s. Eugénie, empress of France from 1853 to 1871, visited Cairo and Constantinople. Both the sultan of Turkey and the khedive (Turkish viceroy) in Egypt acquired large chandeliers and candelabra from Baccarat. The shah of Persia, Nāser od-Din, presented the company with a large order for lighting devices in 1873. Baccarat worked hard to expand its Near Eastern market, and it welcomed wealthy foreign visitors to its Paris showrooms.2

Fig. 1: Candelabrum probably made by Baccarat, 1860-1875. Dolmabahçe Palace, Istanbul, Turkey.The first piece of furniture made by Baccarat appears to have been a small table, the design of which can still be found in the company’s files. The drawing is dated 1861, and it indicates that the table was two feet four inches tall and two feet five inches in diameter. This was about the same size as the table displayed by the English glass decorating company of W.P. and G. Phillips at the London exposition of 1862 (see figure 5, chapter 1). Of these two designs, the one by Baccarat is much more conventional. It has a cut pedestal and top, with a brass base below the foot. No examples of this table have been found.

Baccarat designs for large standing oil lamps dating from the same period also survive in the company's archives. These were very colorful objects, and they may well have been made for the Eastern market. Several of Istanbul’s royal palaces have candelabra that were probably manufactured by Baccarat (Fig. 1). They consist of cut glass pieces supported on a metal stem, and they resemble lighting devices made by Osler. These objects were likely made in the 1860s or early 1870s.

When Paris hosted its second world's fair, in 1867, the centerpiece of Baccarat’s exhibit was a fountain standing 24 feet tall, with a basin 10 feet in diameter (Fig. 2). It did not receive the kind of attention that was accorded Osier’s Crystal Fountain in 1851, probably because it was neither the first nor the largest such fountain. Baccarat’s 1867 display also included a pair of classical vases that were five feet in height. Although these vases were in the company’s Paris showrooms for a number of years, they have since disappeared, and there is no record of the purchaser.

Fig. 2: View of the Baccarat display at the Paris World's Fair of 1867, with mammoth fountain in the center. From L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 illustrée: Publication internationale autorisée par la Commission Impériale, ed. Fr. Ducuing, Paris:the commission, 1867, v. 1, pp. 376-377. Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York.

Fig. 3: Liqueur cabinet in the shape of an elephant with a howdah, pressed, etched, cut, gilded; gilded bronze. Made for the Baccarat display at the 1878 world's fair in Paris. H. 65 cm, L. 58 cm. Four carafes fit inside the palanquin, and 12 mugs hang from the bronze harness. The Crillon Palace, Paris.Baccarat’s display at the third Parisian world’s fair, held in 1878, featured the Temple of Mercury, which was 16 feet high and 17 feet in diameter. The temple enclosed a bronze statue of the god Mercury. It remained in the company’s possession until 1892, when it was sold. It is now on the grounds of a private home in northern Spain, along with two five-foot glass vases that are very similar to those presented at the 1867 exposition. Illustrations of Baccarat’s 1878 exhibit show an array of very large chandeliers and candelabra, as well as a great deal of tableware. Its most unusual piece, however, was a liqueur cabinet in which the container for the decanters was mounted in an elephant's howdah (Fig. 3).3 It was inspired by the Elephant of the Bastille, a fountain symbolizing French strength that was commissioned by Napoleon I in 1808 but never built. Baccarat produced only a few of these cabinets, but at least one of them was sold in India in the 1880s. It was bought by the maharajah of Baroda, who later purchased glass furniture from Osler. The cabinet displayed at the world's fair is now located in the lobby of the Hôtel Crillon in Paris.

A 24-light candelabrum, now in a private collection, features a four-part foot, which Baccarat employed extensively in the 1880s for candelabra. This foot is similar to the tripod foot that was employed on gueridons (small, round tables). The candelabrum was originally designed for display at the world's fair of 1867 or 1878, and it was in production until World War I (the later models were made for electricity). Examples of this lighting device can be found in private collections and in the company’s museum in Baccarat. The foot is quite distinctive. The cut patterns on the stem pieces vary, but the shapes are always the same. These were probably standard products rather than specially ordered items. The gueridon was also cut in different patterns, and its design is dated 1883. Photographs in the company’s archives show the same base with a cut punch bowl instead of the tabletop. Baccarat created several reproductions of the gueridon in 1993.

The earliest design for glass seating in the Baccarat archives is a drawing for a glass side chair dated 1883. It resembles Osler-made chairs, with cut glass pieces assembled on a metal frame, but the stretchers across the legs are a feature that does not appear in the English firm’s designs. According to company records, at least one of these chairs was made for María Cristina, queen regent of Spain. Two copies of this chair were in a private collection in Paris in the 1970s, and they are shown in a photograph in the Baccarat archives. In 1993, Baccarat reissued a few copies of this chair, along with a footstool, copied from the company’s original designs. A couch and armchair designed in 1885 match the design of the 1883 chair. Unfortunately, the purchaser of these pieces is unknown, but they may have been sold in the Eastern market. At any rate, Baccarat opened a showroom in Bombay in the 1880s.

The Baccarat files also contain a pen and ink design for a large armchair, the result of a commission for a glass throne. Again, the name of the buyer is not recorded, but this object was certainly made for sale in India.

Company records indicate that Baccarat transported its glass furniture by elephant to customers in India. By 1872, the firm was selling more glass abroad than at home, and much of its market was located in Asia.

The largest pieces of Baccarat furniture were created in 1889. The company’s Paris showroom ordered two rectangular tables. Detailed drawings of these pieces (design no. 4923) survive in the firm’s archives, but they do not indicate the material from which the top was made. In 1905, one of these two tables, or a third one with a marble top, was still in the showroom. It can be seen in a photograph taken there during a visit from Nāser od-Din, the shah of Persia. By 1927, two Baccarat tables were in the collection of the baroness E. d'Erlanger. One of these pieces, illustrated in an article about her apartment, had a glass top.4

Fig. 4: Cut glass sculpture in the form of a boat mounted on a glass table with a marble top, pressed, cut; assembled on metal frame. Boat designed by Charles Vital Cornu and created by Baccarat in 1900; table designed (with glass top) by Baccarat in 1889. OH. 167 cm. The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York (79.3.155).At the 1900 world’s fair in Paris, the Parisian department store Le Grand Dépôt displayed a sculpture in the form of a boat. It was designed by Charles Vital Cornu (1851-1927) and created in glass and bronze by Baccarat. Following the exposition, this sculpture remained in Baccarat’s shop until it was purchased in 1930 by Sri Ganga Singhji Bahadur, the maharajah of Bikaner. It is housed today in the Lallgarh Palace in Bikaner. The maharajah was one of Baccarat’s regular customers, and the palace contains several examples of pieces made by the company. Another boat produced by the factory remained there for some years, and it is not known when it was sold. It was part of a lot with a rectangular glass table that was offered for sale at a Parisian auction in 1979, and both of these objects are now in the collection of The Corning Museum of Glass. The company’s records do not state when these pieces were united (Fig. 4), but it seems likely that they were together in the Baccarat showroom after 1900, and they were probably purchased at the same time.

Baccarat was an extensive producer of glass chandeliers and candelabra, and many of these objects were sold in Turkey and India. However, it did not follow the example of the Osler and Defries firms in making many colored examples of these pieces. Another customer for Baccarat’s large lighting devices was Russia’s Czar Nicholas II. He ordered his first candelabrum in 1896, selecting a design from 1878. Although the design was for 79 candles, the czar wanted to have it made for electricity. The Russian royal family continued to order table services and large lighting devices from Baccarat. In fact, it placed so many orders that the firm devoted an entire workshop to filling them. Following the collapse of the czarist government during the Russian Revolution in 1917, Baccarat was left with a pair of candelabra that had been ordered by the royal family. These objects, made between 1905 and 1908, are still in the Baccarat showrooms today. Several pieces based on this design are thought to have been ordered for the company’s Indian showroom as well.

Baccarat never manufactured glass furniture on a scale comparable to that attained by the Osler firm. However, while it commanded a much smaller share of the Indian market, that seems to have been the place where most of its furniture and large lighting devices were sold. After World War I, the demand for such sizable pieces declined. Of all the companies that manufactured glass furniture, Baccarat is the only one that is still in business, and its tableware and chandeliers are sold worldwide.

Jane Shadel Spillman, Curator of American Glass
This article was published in European Glass Furnishings for Eastern Palaces, 2006, pp. 116–127.

1. The Illustrated London News, v. 27, no. 769, November 10, 1855, p. 561.

2. Dany Sautot, Baccarat: Une manufacture française, Paris: Massin, 2003, p. 97.

3. The howdah was a seat, commonly equipped with a railing and canopy, that was placed on the back of an elephant.

4. Princesse J.L. de Faucigny-Lucinge, "Chez la Bne E. d'Erlanger,"Art et Industrie, February 1927, pp. 19-23. Of the two tables that are known today, one has a marble top and the other has a glass top. This leads to the conclusion that there may have been a third table, which also featured a glass top. It was customary for glass factories to make copies of specially ordered large pieces that could easily be destroyed. French tables were pressed and then cut, so it would have been easy to press the pieces needed for a third table and have them ready in case they were needed. In 1988, Baccarat re-created two of these tables from the old molds, and both of them had a marble top.

Published on March 14, 2018