Galle Poetry in Glass

Galle Poetry in Glass  by Rosemary McKittrick

Photo courtesy of Christie's.                         

No artist influenced glassmaking as an art form more than Emile Galle.  He was born in Nancy, France in 1846.  By 1873 Galle set up his own glass studio and a year later was managing his father's glass and ceramics factory in Nancy.

I have sought to make crystal yield forth all the tender or fierce expression I can summon when guided by a hand that delights in it.
— Emile Galle

It seems he was born to be a glassmaker.    

Galle was inspired by cameo glass, a technique of glassmaking dating back to antiquity. It’s made in layers, usually in different colors and hand-carved to create raised cameo designs.  Galle traveled throughout Europe learning all he could about glassmaking.  He visited museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London where he learned about enameling by studying the Oriental collection. 

He paid special attention to the designers who inspired him like Eugene Rousseau.

Galle took what he learned back to his studio and incorporated it into his own unique designs. What resulted was an art form that took glassmaking to a new level through pioneering artistry and technical know-how. 

Galle ultimately became a leading force behind the art nouveau movement.

“I have sought to make crystal yield forth all the tender or fierce expression I can summon when guided by a hand that delights in it," he said.   

 Galle took his biggest cue from nature.  In his spare time he studied and collected plants figuring out ways to incorporate them into glass.  He also added more color to the glass, as many as five colors.  He eliminated sharp color contrasts, focusing more on subtle shading.  He added texture with hammered-metal effects.  He also used foil inclusions and fire polishing.

Galle was all about creating new, mysterious visual effects.  The end result was dazzling.  The French called it “poetry in glass.”  He took his designs to the Paris Exhibition of 1878 and was awarded a “grand prix.”   His intensely colored opaque pieces, layered and carved or etched with plant motifs were a big hit. 

He was especially moved by the cameo glass displays of Joseph Locke and John Northwood from England.  His complaint about the 1878 exhibition was that it didn’t look to the future enough.  A lack of vision.  He was up to creating something new and different with glass. 

By 1889 designers were imitating him.

In 1894 Galle built his own manufacturing plant in Nancy.  He hired 300 designers and craftsmen to work on his designs.  He continued to exhibit and his innovative art nouveau styles earned him more international awards.  

Besides glass, Galle was a furniture maker.  His eye for quality and his love of nature is also reflected in his furniture design.  His workmen used motor driven tools to make basic shapes.  Wood was like plastic to him, impressionable and willing to curve.  The finishing work in his pieces was done by hand. 

Galle was committed to promoting naturalism in his glass as well as his furniture.  He was always pushing the limits.   

Shape, color and themes are the hallmark of Galle glass.  He wanted his containers to be much more than functional and they are.

On March 16, Christie’s featured a selection of Galle glass in its 20th Century Decorative Art & Design auction. 

Galle Glass

Glass box; with cover; acid-etched Cameo glass; Cameo signature Galle; circa 1900; 3½ inches by 7 inches;  $2,250.

Vase; wheel-carved Cameo; Cameo signature Galle; circa 1900; 1 ¼ inches high;  $7,500. 

Vase; wheel-carved Cameo glass; signed in Cameo Galle; circa 1900; 8 ¾ inches high;  $27,500.

Vase; wheeled-carved Cameo glass; marked Galle Nancy Cristallerie 3c; circa 1900; 12 inches high; $30,000.


Rosemary McKittrick is a storyteller.  For 26 years she has brought the world of collecting to life in her column.  Her website is a mother lode of information about art, antiques and collectibles.  Rosemary received her education in the trenches working as a professional appraiser.

Babe Ruth Simply the Best

Babe Ruth Simply the Best

Jean Harlow Seductive Innocence

Jean Harlow Seductive Innocence