The National Glass Collectors Fair
Short History of Art Glass
The latest National Glass Fair (November 2013) once again featured an exciting exhibition showcasing museum quality examples of decorative glass. This time around the exhibition explored the rich history of glassmaking in Hungary.
The exhibition was curated by regular exhibitor Art of Antiques (Attila Sik). Please find below a brief introduction to the history of glass making in Hungary, along with illustrations of glass that was featured in the exhibition.
An Introduction to Hungarian Glassmaking
Hungary is a small central European country with a rich history in glass making. The genesis and development of independent Hungarian glass making can be traced back to the foundation of Hungary in 896 AD. Small glass manufactures were already well established by the medieval period: mostly producing sheet glass for decorating churches and blown-glass for home use. Most of the glass masters originated in Germany and Venice, bringing their characteristic styles with them. However during the Ottoman occupation of Hungary (1541 to 1699) most of the glass makers fled the country. A small group of these master craftsmen eventually settled in the UK and established a glassworks in Stourbridge (West Midlands) in 1556. This is still reflected by the name of an area in Stourbridge called Hungary Hill.
Fig. 1 - Enamelled spirits flask from the mid and late 18th century
When thinking of items that represent typical Hungarian glassmaking, enamelled glass bottles for storing spirits are a good example (fig. 1). However it can be hard to determine which area or Hungary, or even which country, such glass originated. We can find very similar bottles in Austria, Hungary, Russia and even Spain - the only clues to their origin are the colour combination and motifs.
Fig. 2 - Glass decanter with externally applied glass trail decoration and engraving. Late 17th century (Transylvania, Porumbak).
We face the same difficulty with glass decanters that feature applied glass decoration that divides their bulbous bodies into six segments (fig. 2). The shape, but not the decoration, is similar to the more common Dutch decanters from the same period (17 and 18th century). Only the decoration provides some help in identifying pictured example, as the engraved peacock and grape motifs suggest a Hungarian origin. This type of flask can still be found in second hand shops and flea markets and were made by German glass blowers in Porumbak (Transylvania, now in Romania) from 1650 to the present day. Obviously this adds to the difficulty of identifying such items.
One of the most important legacies of Hungarian glassmaking is the development of iridescent glass by Valentin Leo Pantocsek in Zlatno (now in Slovakia) at Zahn Glasswork in 1856 (fig. 3). This technique was later “borrowed” by Lobmeyr (Austria) and greatly influenced Tiffany (USA) who perfected the method.
Hungary boasts several well renowned glass factories. One good example is Parad, established in the early 18th century, which produced glass with a very distinctive style (fig. 4). Parad manufactured a large amount of glassware that was mostly made for the home market.
Fig. 3 - Iridescent glass by Valentin Leo Pantocsek (middle) from the 1860s. More recent examples by Agnes Smetana (left) & Marton Horvath (right)
Hungary also has its share of influential pioneers; Julia Bathory is a good example. In the 1930s and 40s she worked in Paris, where she invented a unique use of intaglio engraving and cutting techniques, which resulted in a range of iconic Art Deco glasses. By the 1950s Bathory had returned to Hungary and established the Glass Department at the Hungarian University of Arts and Design, which was run by Gyorgy Z Gacs and later by Zoltan Bohus. Under their tutelage a new generation of glass artists emerged, unleashing new techniques and forms on the world of glass glassmaking.
This new generation included Marton Horvath, who mastered the iridescent method and produced glass that could be considered works of modern art. Meanwhile Agnes Smetana revived the traditions of Art Nouveau with a contemporary twist, producing unforgettable glass vases that feature beautiful and colourful flowers and plants (fig. 3).
Fig 4 - Glass manufactured by Parad, featuring characteristic white enamel decoration on blue glass.
Others, like Peter Botos, started using optical glasses to create geometric glass sculptures that trick the eyes and deceive the mind. Laszlo Lukacsi developed a unique technique that awarded him the gold prize at the International Exhibition of Glass (Kanazawa, Japan) in 2010. One of his masterpieces was even purchased by the V&A, which can be seen on permanent exhibition in London. Peter Borkovics re-discovered an ancient Roman technique and produced several extremely fragile “vas diatretum” pieces in various colours (fig. 5), while Gyorgy Gaspar creates futuristic glass visions of our world. Mihaly Melcher and Margit M. Toth are masters of the “pate de verre” method and use this notoriously difficult technique to visualise a surrealistic fantasy world.
The strides these artists made in developing glassmaking still resonates to this day.
Fig. 5 - Vas diatretum vessel by Peter Borkovics.
The latest generation of Hungarian glass artists is just as creative as their predecessors and constantly searching for novel ways to manipulate glass and develop new forms. For example, Dora Varga and Hajni Virag both use retro themes and complex textured glass to delight the eye.
Up until fairly recently it has been difficult to get access to the distinctive and cutting edge glass produced by Hungary's glass masters of past and present. The only way you could really get to appreciate all the country has to offer was to travel there in person. Thanks to this exhibition glass enthusiasts were provided with a rare opportunity to see some of this glass up close and in person.
Further Exhibition Details
Some examples of contemporary glass by the artists mentioned in this article can be found in the Contemporary Preview Gallery for our November 2013 glass fair.
Please find below a selection of photos taken on the day of the November 2013 National Glass Fair.