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Luscious Lalique

I’ve been immersed in such awful and disturbing news over the past few days that I needed to do an ostrich act. It’s escapism I know and it’s only temporary – but necessary to stay sane. Since I do not go down the denial routes of getting sloshed or stoned or both, I tend to plunge into a manic work pace or a headlong dive into what gives me a great deal of joy – works of art. And I have to say that a number of art galleries on the internet are wizard in having me trawl them hours on end while I’m playing favourite music. Materialistic I know but as admirable as it is, ascetism in this regard is not me.

Anyways, a couple of days back as the night temperatures plummeted while the humidity levels spiked (that’s what makes Maltese winters bone-rattling cold) I hit upon a Lalique perfume bottle which had me drool even more than usual for it would have made a definite statement in my bathroom – which is a fusion of contemporaneity and art deco. Yes, I am a big fan of eclecticism which I have now realised stems from me being a generalist.

Thankfully, it was beyond my means and at that point, good sense kicked in and jolted me back to ground level reality. Though the spell was broken, I somehow managed to cling to a gleam of flying like an unfettered kite dancing with the wind totally uncaring about the direction of where it was heading. Suddenly, a bell ding donged in my head and I recalled an article I wrote a few years back – the background of which is also a story in itself.

One particular August I happened to be in Ljubljana. Unusual for me to travel when all Europe is on the move; but this was a totally impromptu short break away from my Rock and there were no second thoughts about it. It was my third visit to Slovenia which I love to bits and having landed on a Sunday afternoon, the historical core where I had lay anchor was pretty quiet except for an artisan market which my legs seemed to have found on their own accord. Within minutes I had gravitated towards a stall that sold handmade silk scarves.

When I came to pay the young artisan, she was thrilled to see my Maltese euro coins for she said that they were hard to come by in her country and she was keen to complete her collection of this coinage. Of course, this broke the ice and we got chatting away. It was through her that I found out about her aunt’s antique shop a few streets away (note her business savvy) but does not open on Sundays. It was a blessing in disguise for I love exploring a city in its different moods and despite my third visit I had never seen this gorgeous capital city on a Sunday afternoon and evening.

Even more fortunate was the fact that the antique shop was a stone’s throw from the hotel I was staying at. So, breakfast the next day was rounded off with a feast for the eyes and for the soul. (Incidentally, the time I spent browsing saved me from a stalker I noticed soon after leaving my hotel and who threatened to upset me big time. Thankfully, I’ve been through situations like this and have learnt to deal with them as calmly and as sensibly as possible. Admittedly, I’ve been also lucky that none ever ended in horrifying experiences)

Back to my story. Inside this chock-a-block antiques paradise I saw a Lalique vase with my own eyes for the very first time. Although it was too ornate for my tastes (not all Lalique glassware is fussy), the artistry of rendering glass into dancing ripples and waves is beyond stunning. I think you really have to have the French unapologetic love for sensual living to conceive what Lalique dreamt of and created.

It’s not the stuff I usually write about but for those of you who would like to discover this artist, here goes a spotlight on Lalique history:

Luminous yet impenetrable. Fragile yet hard. A barrier but not quite. Glass fascinates with its mystery of contrasts. More so in the exquisite designs of René Lalique whose masterpieces veer from sculptured beauty to ephemeral shadow play that capture the simmering elegance of Art Deco.

Born in 1860 near Reims and apprenticed to a Parisian goldsmith at the age of 16, Lalique first achieved acclaim in his mid-20s as a jewellery designer. Combining precious and semi-precious metals and stones, the innovative and stunning intricacies of his designs defined Art Nouveau. Not surprisingly Lalique’s pricey jewellery inflamed desire in the rich and famous. Sarah Bernhardt was one of his most famous clients. Her legendary aura still adds to the cache of Lalique.

By 1900 Lalique was riding the crest of fame and fortune. He could have very well basked in the glory of his wealth and the ongoing shower of accolades. But his artistic verve hungered for a new direction. Perhaps he found the answer in the wonder of stained windows that adorn French Gothic cathedrals, including the one in Reims, his hometown. Whatever the inspiration, Lalique turned to glass.

In around 1906, he began to collaborate with the French parfumier, Maison de Coty to make perfume bottles. Beautiful designs for Worth, Guerlain, Nina Ricci and Boucheron followed. These were, however, only the tip of the iceberg. By the mid-1920s Lalique had established three glass factories producing a tremendous range of decorative Art Deco-style pieces. Remarkably for mass-produced wares, the quality of craftsmanship matched that of his earlier jewellery designs and earned him further international acclaim.

Lalique vases, bowls, plates and glasses became the new must-haves. But Lalique also designed figurines, clocks, chandeliers, wall lights and floor lamps and even car mascots. Made from moulded glass, his designs are either clear, frosted, stained with colour (shades of blue, amber, green, red or black prevail) or opalescent.

And it is Lalique’s opaque glass that endures as the ultimate object of desire. Created by adding phosphates, fluorine and aluminium oxide to the glass to make it opaque, minute quantities of pigment were added for subtle tints of colour (such as blue and sepia). The entire procedure was and still is very precisely controlled in Lalique wares.

Lalique’s designs reflect the gradual shift of emphasis in Art Deco between the wars: more naturalistic and sculptural during the Twenties, more streamlined and geometric in the Forties. His imagery (often in relief) centred on the female form, flowers and insects. All are executed in painstaking detail. For all his business savoir-faire, he never let go working as a labour of love.

What about the signature d’auteur?

With the exception of some perfume bottles, almost every piece of Lalique bears an etched or impressed mark. Before his death in 1945, it was either the signature ‘R. Lalique’ often with ‘France’ in matching script; or ‘R. LALIQUE’ in bold capitals, with the base of the L sometimes elongated under the rest of the letters. A mould number can accompany both variations.

Since 1950 all pieces have been marked simply, ‘Lalique, France’ which make it easy for you to date them. But you still have to watch out for fakes, some of which are infuriatingly convincing.

The wonder of Lalique glass never dates. His distinctive modernist designs and use of cool colours expressed with prima ballerina gracefulness fit in beautifully with both yesterday’s and today’s interiors. He has always been at the height of collectable cool.

Perhaps one day I will strike a bargain at some flea market. Dream on babe!

Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.
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Anonymous
Anonymous

Great article Noemi, sometimes it’s a very healthy act to break from the insanity of the world, and delve into the beauty of art, on all levels. It takes us away from the mundane or the worry of the day.
I have seen many various pieces of beautiful Lalique pieces in antique stores, lovely works of art to just stare at and fantasize about.
Sometimes in life, it’s best to take a break and take in the beauty of the art world, and all that it holds.
Blessings, and thank you for the article

Gabriella Menaguale
Gabriella Menaguale

Ciao Noemi,
grazie per il tuo contributo!
Non conoscevo quest’autore purtroppo, sono contenta di averne fatta conoscenza.
Rifletto più che altro sul tempo che si potrebbe trascorrere ad ammirare l’Arte..ahimè non mi capita spesso, trascorro più tempo ad ammirare le bellezze della natura ma forse anche questa è un’altra forma di osservazione d’arte!

Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.

I enjoyed this article very much, Noemi. Sometimes, inspiration strikes in the most unusual places. I always say, ‘Pay attention to what you pay attention to.’ Aside from the education on Lalique (which I knew nothing about 5 minutes ago), I’m reminded that beauty is all around us… even at the flea market!

shray
shray

Indeed -they are yummy works- grab us in our hearts- even though the subject is simple and well known to us- perhaps that is why- they have the same magic that our own imaginations create- thank you for the daydream-Shray

Manuela Giffoni Harashima
Manuela Giffoni Harashima

Dear Noemi,
As usual, an excellent article !
However, this time, you make us reflect upon the power of art and beauty combined !
Lalique’s works of art are indeed magnificent, and his story , that you kindly share with us, only adds to the aura of this renowned and wonderful artist !
Your writing also reminds us that art , in whatever shape or form, is a powerful antidote against depressive and negative thoughts and deeply soothes our souls with its beauty and peace.

Claudio Viassone
Claudio Viassone

Devo premettere che non conoscevo assolutamente Lalique né tanto meno le sue opere. Guardando le immagini inserite in quest’articolo, sono andato a cercarne altre sul web e ho notato che alcune osservandole, sono delicatamente belle, sinuose ed eleganti, oltre che ricche di fini particolari… Altre ferme, decise, quasi stilizzate. Personalmente prediligo più le prime, forse perché mi ritrovo a essere un osservatore che si perde nella ricerca dei dettagli, in qualsiasi cosa, di qualsiasi materiale… Anch’io, come altre persone prima, amo osservare la natura, senza disdegnare assolutamente l’arte e mi viene naturale carpire immagini di essa, quasi come fare una foto mentalmente, e scrutarne i particolari, i profili, i movimenti…
Leggendo la tua esperienza a Lubiana però, è vero anche che mi viene del tutto naturale avere un altro modo di osservare, cioè fare attenzione a cosa avviene intorno a me, nella mia città… quasi come avere appunto come dici anche tu, le antenne dritte, per capire le situazioni o gli intenti. E lo dico con rammarico, ma sono le esperienze che parlano…
Osservare per nutrirci e immergerci nella bellezza e osservare per protezione…
La nostra vera natura è certamente la prima, anche se abbiamo bisogno della seconda, ed io amo la bellezza… penso che l’essere umano non ne può fare a meno.
Grazie Noemi di questo particolare articolo
Claudio

Claudio Viassone
Claudio Viassone

Devo premettere che non conoscevo assolutamente Lalique né tantomeno le sue opere. Guardando le immagini inserite in quest’articolo, sono andato a cercarne altre sul web e ho notato che alcune osservandole, sono delicatamente belle, sinuose ed eleganti, oltre che ricche di fini particolari… Altre ferme, decise, quasi stilizzate. Personalmente prediligo più le prime, forse perché mi ritrovo a essere un osservatore che si perde nella ricerca dei dettagli, in qualsiasi cosa, di qualsiasi materiale… Anch’io, come altri prima, amo osservare la natura, apprezzando assolutamente anche l’arte di cui sono amante, e mi viene naturale carpire immagini di essa, quasi come fare una foto mentalmente, e scrutarne i particolari, i profili, i movimenti…
Leggendo la tua esperienza a Lubiana però, è vero anche che mi viene del tutto naturale avere un altro modo di osservare, cioè fare attenzione a cosa avviene intorno a me, nella mia città… quasi come avere appunto come dici anche tu, le antenne dritte, per capire le situazioni o gli intenti. E lo dico con rammarico, ma sono le esperienze che parlano…
Osservare per nutrirci e immergerci nella bellezza e osservare per protezione…
La nostra vera natura è certamente la prima, anche se abbiamo bisogno della seconda, ed io amo la bellezza… penso che l’essere umano non ne può fare a meno.
Grazie Noemi di questo tuo nuovo articolo ricco di delicatezza…
Claudio

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