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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Dragonfly Vase
Date: after 1889
Medium: Glass
Dimensions: Height: 3 13/16 inches (9.7 cm)
Credit Line: Gift of Drs. Lee and Connie Koppelman
Object Number: 2001.075.004
Emile Gallé designed this cameo glass vase decorated with a landscape of a pond.

This vase was made in France.

Émile Gallé (1846-1904) was a French glassmaker, ceramicist, and furniture maker. Gallé studied botany and mineralogy in Germany early on in his life, before he began glassmaking in Nancy in 1874. His work in glass reflects a life long fascination with these subjects, as well as his interests in the art of Japan and Symbolism. He first exhibited furniture at the Paris Universal Exposition in 1889 and rapidly expanded his business in the 1890s. He was awarded the Légion d’Honneur in 1900, confirming his status as an entrepreneur and unrivaled creator of French decorative arts. In 1901 he helped established the École de Nancy. The firm continued until the 1930s, even after his death.

To see other glass items designed by Gallé in the Johnson Museum’s collection, search for object numbers 61.022 and 73.059.046 in the keyword search box.

Cameo glass is glass that is made from one color that has been covered by a second or even third layer of contrasting color(s), also called casing, flashing or overlaying. The outer layer is then acid-etched, carved, or engraved, producing a design that stands out from the surface of the vessel. Cameo glass dates back to ancient Roman times. It became popular in England in the 19th century when modern technology and methods eased cameo glass production.

The designs on the vase were created by an acid-etching technique. Acid etching was introduced into Gallé’s factory in 1889. The technique was developed in the 19th century to give glass a satin, matte finish by exposing it to hydrofluoric acid. Areas that were not to be etched were covered in a resist of wax, varnish, or oil into which the design was scratched before acid was applied.

Gallé infused the objects he created with dream-like colors and settings. He was not only interested in nature, but also held the belief that objects could affect one’s thinking and “create an atmosphere of tranquility…to calm our nerves.”

The decoration on this vase is typical of Gallé’s Art Nouveau style objects. Notice the naturalistic design of a large dragonfly over a marsh pond and landscape setting. The dragonfly fascinated artists and designers of the Art Nouveau period, like Gallé. With its iridescent wings and delicate yet monstrous body, the insect became one of the perfect subjects for the Art Nouveau style.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.