Art Glass Innovation: Daum Nancy's “Vigne et Escargots” Vase
The firm of Daum Nancy has a long and storied history, dating back to 1878, when Jean Daum was offered a glassworks factory in Nancy, France, as a form of payment for an outstanding debt. A lawyer with no previous glassmaking experience, Jean Daum agreed and Daum Nancy was born as his two sons, Auguste and Antonin Daum, quickly became partners for the now-family business. Inspired by the Art Nouveau movement happening in France, and especially Nancy, at the time, the Daum brothers officially launched “Daum Frères” in 1889, assembling a creative and esteemed team of designers, artists, and artisans—including Jacques Gruber, Henri Berge, and Amalric Walter—to produce colorful, creative, modern glass in a naturalistic style.
As early as 1893, the Daum Nancy pieces were gaining popularity and critical acclaim, establishing themselves as innovators in the Art Nouveau art glass market.
During the Art Deco period, the factory moved into a thick-walled glass type, as you can see in this Daum Nancy glass vase, entitled “Vigne et Escargots” or “Vines and Snails,” from the late 1910s or early 1920s. Featuring grape clusters, vines, and leaves in low relief with two delicately- applied snails balancing on grape leaves, the mottled amber, pink, red, plum, and white glass ground makes a boldly colorful statement, with deep violet grapes applied to heighten the natural effects of the grape clusters. The scene is loosely landscape-based, with roots at the bottom of the vase, and vines draping down from the top, but the complex composition makes the piece entirely surreal. During the Art Nouveau period, artists frequently used scenes from nature to convey human emotion, and vice versa. This autumnal piece is dark and mysterious, with gnarls, roots, and snails slithering across it. The motifs, patterns, and textures on this beautiful base imply a time of transience, like the changing of the seasons.
The “Vigne et Escargots” vase was produced in five distinct layers, beginning with a colorless glass core. In the intercalaire layer, the top two-thirds was colored with sulfure de cadmium inclusions, while the bottom third was powdered with améthyste inclusions. After this first layer was cased with colorless glass, it was colored once again with translucent white inclusions in the top two-thirds of the vase, and améthyste again in the bottom two thirds. The appearance of cirrus clouds at sunset were created with these next series of améthyste inclusions, sprinkled atop burgundy inclusions. The base featured a spattering of opaque verte de paris inclusions, and, to create a soot-like atmosphere, bistre inclusions were sprinkled about the grapes. The final layer of this vase consists of burgundy inclusions in the top third and améthyste, opaque verte de paris, and translucent white inclusions in the bottom two-thirds. The vase was subsequently blown into an inverted baluster form, with an undulating trefoil mouth and a splayed, thick, concave firing foot. In the constriction between the body and foot, the body was twisted counter-clockwise, while the constriction between the body and neck was twisted clockwise; this striation created by the twisting of the intercalated layers creates a sense of rising air on this remarkable piece.
To finish the glass vase, the bodies of the burgundy glass snails were subsequently created with drawn-out upper and lower tentacles, fused with yellow powdered glass. For the snails' shells, a core of colorless glass was coated in light gray-brown, dark gray-brown, and black powdered glass, cased in another layer of colorless glass. The snail shells were fused to the body using this highly powdered glass mixture. After the design was painted in wax upon the vase, the background and snails were acid-etched with hydrofluoric-acid etching, allowing the intercalated layers to show brilliantly through, and the snails to be given a frosted appearance. The grapevine design and snails were subsequently hand carved, taking care to even subtly detail the snail shell's bands.
Like many collectible antique glass objects and glasswares, there are few high-quality examples of Daum pieces from this time, and even fewer in prime condition. Throughout the Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods, the company excelled in complex glassmaking techniques, combining multiple techniques into each piece, as seen in this vase. Etching, carving, enameling, engraving, and applied glass elements can all be found in a single masterpiece of art glass. Daum Nancy was especially known for their favored motifs—applied glass snails, like the ones found in “Vigne et Escargots,” as well as clusters of berries and slugs—which, in turn, make this vessel a magnet for Daum Nancy collectors.
Antonin Daum died in 1930, leaving Daum Nancy to be run by the second generation of Daum nephews, who continued on, through World War II, and as another third generation of Daums took over in 1970, they invited a number of famous sculptors, designers, and master glass artists, to design special limited editions for the company. The company is still successful to this day, operating since 1962 as a public company under the name Cristallerie Daum.