Industrial Progress Abroad – 1869

South Australian Register, SA, Thursday 18th March 1869, page 3.


Glass Decoration – Its MODERN DEVELOPMENTS..

At the head of the restorers of glass painting must be placed the Germans, and among them special mention must be made of the Courts of Berlin and Munich. Both these Continental homes of the fine arts have been lavish of their patronage on glass painting. It was a subject well adapted at once to their circumstances and to the flattery of their self importance. It had historical consequence to render it worthy of attention of royalty. It was sufficiently refined to exercise the artistic and intellectual tastes on which German royalty prides itself. It was sufficiently expensive to exclude the danger of private competition degrading to a royal exchequer. It was sufficiently interesting to the community at large for its success to be regarded as a public boon. The two Courts were right in nearly all their calculations. For many years they enjoyed an enviable prominence in the artistic world through their Royal Glass Factories. They secured the pioneer honours to which they had aspired. They achieved even greater success than they had aimed at. They were long left in undisputed possession of their laurels. They will live forever in the history of decorative art as liberal and discriminating patrons. They have filled the windows of some of the finest cathedrals in Europe with mosaics which will command admiration for centuries to come.

            But the Royal Factories at Berlin and Munich excellent institutions as they are – have happily no longer a monopoly of the art which they restored to the world. Glass painting has been introduced and cultivated successfully in all the countries of Europe which make any pretence to refinement. In some it has been expanded out of its artistic exclusiveness into an industry. The practical Englishman has his stained glass manufactories, and with their assistance he has refuted the Continental insinuation that he cannot produce designs worthy of anything better than Manchester calico. Presbyterian Scotland has thrown open her churches to the glass painter, through less than half a century ago he would have been denounced as a child of the scarlet woman, and his art as a temptation to idolatry. According to the Scotsman – to which this and other articles of the present series are largely indebted for materials – there are now half a dozen establishments in Edinburgh for the decoration of glass, besides two in Glasgow. The emulation between the British and Continental manufacturers increases as the competition between them becomes more equal. For many years Berlin and Munich were unassailable in their royal partronage [sic] and their early reputation; but they are so no longer. The British factories, though purely commercial, have been so well encouraged by the public that their resources qualify them for any contest. To some extent the inevitable rivalry has been averted by the cultivation of distinct lines of art. The Continental work excels in colouring and the British in transparency, the latter quality being due to superior glass. In engraving the Scotch have had nearly as great a start of other countries as the Germans had in painting.

            The three forms of glass decoration – staining, painting, and engraving – may be rendered intelligible by a very brief description. The stainer receives from the glass-blower certain sheets of “pot metal”, each of which has been coloured during fusion. From the designer he receives his pattern, which has first been drawn in miniature, and then enlarged to full size, with every colour, shading, and detail complete as it is expected to appear in the finished work. With his diamond he dexterously cuts out the pieces, and meanwhile a lead frame is being prepared to fit them into. It is grooved on both sides, and the pieces are fastened with solder. All this must be done in so delicate a manner as to produce the appearance of solid glass. The number of joints that has to be manipulated may be conceived from the fact that elaborate work often contains a hundred pieces to the square foot. For outlining of shading, which cannot be done by simple colours, metallic pigments are used, but the shades they produce are far inferior to those of pot metal. Etching and embossing are done by means of fluoric acid. The same chemical agent is largely employed in producing the cheap ornamentation of “flashed glass” – the lobby window kind – resplendent in its blues and rubies. This is coloured only about a sixth of its thickness, the background being clear. The white scroll-work, so frequently introduced into it, represents part of the colouring eaten out by fluoric acid, and its clearness is due to the uncoloured background appearing alongside the obscure coloured surface. Exactly the same effect can be produced in embossing plate glass.

            The glass-stainer is an artisan – the glass painter is an artist. The skill of the latter is still more cherished in Germany than anywhere else, and the proofs of it abound wherever there has been an ecclesiastical restoration. But in the invention of new decoration for glass England has confessedly outstripped the Continent. In the mere blowing and modelling of glass-ware the British manufacturer can command admiration by artistic elegance and beauty. On engraving he can rival the cameos If [sic] the ancients, and dares to hope for the revival of that art which left behind it the Portland and Pompeian vases. A firm of engravers in Edinburgh, Messrs. J. Millar & Co., have, by the selection of the most skilful workmen, and the introduction of new designs, given good promise that this ambition will soon be realized. At the International Exhibition in 1862 they showed a beautiful fern pattern, which was at once adopted by the trade and made a standard ornament. At Paris in 1867 they delighted the connoisseurs with more novelties. One was a small glass jug, round which was engraved a perfect facsimile of a frieze among the Elgin marbles. Another was what they termed their Alexandra venetian glass – wineglasses, decanters, &c., of the most brilliant flint, with a light-coloured border on the lip and foot. It was intended as a modification of the dull-looking uniform-coloured Bohemian glass, which it equals in effective contrast with the table linen and exceeds in intrinsic beauty. At the same factory the engraver’s skill has been employed in decorating table crustal with coats of arms, heraldic emblems, monograms, &c. – a fashion which is now becoming as common in glass as in silver. The next step will be to gild these inscriptions, but that idea is yet in its experimental stage.”


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