Gallé, Emile (1846 – 1904)

Emile Gallé belongs among the most important glass artists of the Art Nouveau era. His designs added substantially to the renaissance of French glass art. He presented his works very successfully at numerous World Fairs and thus established a stellar reputation around the world.

The son of a successful faience and furniture manufacturer gained first experiences of the glass art in Meisenthal, France. After the Franco-German war (1870-71), he started working at his father's factory in Saint Clément. After the factory was moved to Nancy, Emile assumed the direction of the company and started to produce glassware there.

His designs are strongly influenced by nature. Even as a pupil, he had been very interested in botany and studied it with great zeal. At the Paris World Fair in 1867 he became acquainted with the art of the Middle and Far East. Next to the originals, the works by Philippe Brocard and Philippe Imberton in the 'Persian style' for Appert Frères, Clichy, served as a model. Eugène Rousseau, who used Hokusai's woodcuts ('Mangas') for his designs made a grand impression on young Gallé as well. He tried to conciliate the different movements with one another.

With his first appearance at the Paris World Fair in 1878 already, he caused a sensation and received 'Médailles d'Or' for four of his glass designs. He scored such a success that he was able to proudly present a cross section of his work under the title 'Histoire du Verre 1878 – 1900' at the Millennium Show in Paris in 1900. In collaboration with friends, e.g. Victor Prouvé, Gallé kept pace with his time and experimented with new shapes, colours and techniques that did not necessarily have traditional models.

Gallé was among the founding members of the 'Ecole de Nancy', together with the Daum brothers and Louis Majorelle, who had acquired renown with cabinetmaking. The school of design found lots of disciples and imitators in Alsace-Lorraine and has been famous for high-quality products ever since.

Emile Gallé was also a very political person. From 1901, he published his opinions in the daily 'Etoile de l'Est' newspaper and had no fear to start an argument with politicians. Even if he was not born in Lorraine, he designed several décors featuring the symbols of Lorraine identity (Cross of Lorraine, thistles), sometimes commented in the Lorraine dialect. He denounced the scandal involving the Jewish Captain Alfred Dreyfus who had been wrongfully accused of treason and subsequently exiled. He was rehabilitated only posthumously, in 1906, after years of proceeding. Gallé himself did not witness the rehabilitation either, he died in Nancy in 1904.

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