Emile Gallé is widely considered the leading artistic innovator of the Art Nouveau movement, creating works of glass and furniture that are breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring in their complexity and variety.
Born in 1846 into a family with a tradition of glassmaking in the town of Nancy, France, Gallé had the good fortune to be well educated and well traveled; both would suit his later pursuits.
Gallé combined his artistic talents with his great passion for botany. This love of nature would most distinguish Gallé's innovative glass works and furniture, setting him apart from the traditional Victorian craftsmen of the day. Heavily influenced by his father, Gallé worked for the family glassworks and began introducing his floral designs to their more traditional wares. By the mid-1870s, Gallé was becoming more and more influential in the business and by the 1890s he had fully immersed himself in its artistic endeavors.
But, Gallé's experimentation and innovation was not limited to works in glass, though it is perhaps the medium for which he is best known. The artist also produced extraordinary pieces of furniture and, like his glass, nature was the intrinsic theme. In every instance, Gallé implemented that theme with an almost poetic fluidity.
Gallé's experimentation with cameo glass began after a visit to the British Museum in 1871, where he saw the great Portland Vase. This ancient cameo glass work inspired Gallé; and his interpretation of the art form was nothing short of genius. By working with multiple layers of glass, Gallé was able to create an incredible dimensional effect that would prove elusive to all but the most accomplished artisans of the day. Today Gallé's cameo glass has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity as people once again recognize the exceptional nature of his work.
During his lifetime, Gallé enjoyed great success and acclaim, triumphing at the great Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and later being elected to the prestigious Légion d'Honneur. At the peak of his career, he employed more than 300 artisans who assisted him in his tireless experimentation with chemisty, color and techniques in the production of art glass. It would be Gallé who fulfilled the most prestigious commissions for the treasured cameo works, including those from the City of Paris, the Russian Royal Family and scores of aristocrats from around the world.
Emile Gallé died in 1904 at the young age of 58, during the height of his career. He was a man who enjoyed fame and fortune, yet remained true to his vision of exalting nature in his work. Gallé remained the master of the art and today, his works continue to be highly sought after by collectors.