An Introduction to The Life and Work of René Lalique

First published by Hungerford Arcade, June 2004. Author unknown.  

René Lalique was born in 1860 in the village of Ay, in the former Champagne region of France. In 1862 his family moved to the outskirts of Paris and at the age of 16 he was apprenticed to renowned Parisian jeweller and goldsmith Louise Aucoc. He later enrolled at the famous Ecole des Arts Decoratifs in Paris and in 1878 he moved to Sydenham, south London, to further his education at The College of Art. Here he was influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement of the time. In 1880, at the age of 20, he returned to Paris and studied sculpture under Justin Lequien at the Ecole Bernard Palissy.

In 1881 Lalique decided to devote himself to designing jewellery and by 1890 he was recognised as one of France’s foremost Art Nouveau jewellery designers. Lalique started to experiment with glass and to incorporate elements into his jewellery design. This work caught the eye of Francois Coty who commissioned him to design decorative bottles for his perfume company.

In the 1890’s Lalique became interested in glass. By 1902 Lalique’s experiments with glass involved a staff of four and in 1905 he opened his first retail shop. In 1909 he rented a glassworks at Comb-la-Ville near Fontainebleau making perfume bottles and 1914 Lalique stopped producing jewellery to concentrate on glass. He was soon designing and making other items, but during the 1914–1918 war the factory closed. In 1918 designs and production grew, and Lalique was showing his works all over the world. By 1921 René Lalique had opened a larger factory in Winger-sur-Moder in Alsace-Lorraine, supplying glass to a world market, and had started to extend the range to include vases, paperweights, inkstands, mirrors, car mascots and statuettes. Approximately 29 car hood mascots were produced. They were made from high quality glass and were hollow to allow different coloured bulbs to be inserted. Today they are highly regarded and very collectable.

René Lalique used different colours for glass manufacture together with opalescents and colour staining. The rich variety of glass was shown in the 1925 Exposition des Arts Decoratifs et Ind. Modernes. Some of the stunning vases were produced such as: Ceylan, Gros Scarabees, Baccahantes, Gui Chevreuse, Oran, Rampillon, Cerises, Prunes, Pibsons, Possons, Aigrettes and many more.

In the 1930s there were over 600 workers. Lalique remained in charge despite his arthritis and branched out into more commercial designs producing architectural elements, windows, glass panels and tables. By World War II factories were closing and work came to a near standstill. After René Lalique died in May 1945, his son Marc rebuilt the factories and became chief designer. Not as prolific as his father, he did produce some popular designs in the 1950s & 1960s. In 1956 Marc’s daughter Marie-Claude joined the firm and when Marc died in 1977 she became the principle designer, a role she continues today.

Lalique marked much of his work ‘R. Lalique’, even the mass-produced pieces, but this is only a rule of thumb as his signature can be found without the ‘R’ for ‘Rene’ as well as in moulded, script, print and curved design. Lalique used so many variations of signatures that it is difficult to give a definitive guideline as to what was made before or after 1945. After taking over the firm, Marc Lalique removed the ‘R’ from the normal ‘R Lalique’ and the pieces his created are signed ‘Lalique France’. ‘Lalique h France’ is the signature on the work of Marie-Claude.

Today, the R Lalique 1909–1945 period is the most sought after and expensive to buy. It is collected all around the world and commands high prices at auction. Condition and originality are important; the perfect examples command serious prices, as do rare designs where lower volumes were made. Colour can also make a great difference. Some colours, like electric blue and very dark amethyst, are more rare than others and consequently can command high prices. As with many antiques and collectables, condition is all-important. Chips, ground down edges, drill holes from conversions of say a bowl to lampshade can greatly reduce value.

Don’t be put off by the fact that many items were mass-produced. Unlike his contemporaries who employed a group of other designers to increase output, Lalique designed and oversaw the production of every piece of glass that bore his mark.

The novice collector should take care when buying from online auction sites as modern Czech glass, bearing Lalique signatures, and less valuable pieces of French glass from the 1920’s, also with a Lalique signature, are quite commonplace.

For more information on Hungerford Arcade, please click here.
For more information on the life, work and legacy of René Lalique, please click here (the two images at the head of this post were taken from this site).

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