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RUBY GLASS: A RHAPSODY IN RED

Circa-1700 gold ruby glass perfume bottle, French or German, with 14K gold stopper. Sold for $650 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

According to legend, ruby-red glass was discovered when a noble tossed a gold coin into a batch of molten glass. In reality, it probably happened when glassworkers unintentionally contaminated batches with traces of gold residue or gold nanoparticles that were components of silver additives.

The earliest known ruby glass vessels date from the late Roman Empire and rival the beauty of intricately carved gems. Yet their appeal along with the secret of their creation faded within a century.

More than a millennium passed before the quest for ruby glass was taken up anew. Antonio Neri, a 16th-century Florentine glassmaker, experimented with magnesium oxide and copper, a red pigment used for cathedral windows. Further investigation revealed that when clear molten glass is imbued with gold salts (known as chlorides) and re-heated, it assumes a range of jewel-like pink-to-red hues. Better still, the amount of gold needed for even the darkest, deepest red is infinitestimal.

Ruby glass perfume bottle with gold painted highlights. Sold for $4,500 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Dan Morphy Auctions and Live Auctioneers

The first European to produce large, evenly-colored, deep red vessels was Johann Kunckel, a 17th-century glassmaker, chemist, and “alchymist,” which is an archaic spelling for “alchemist.” Alchymists had long sought the fabled Philosopher’s Stone, a transparent, glossy red substance deemed essential for transmuting base metals into gold. For hunters of the Philosopher’s Stone, discovering how to create gold ruby glass was not only highly significant, it was wondrous.

Gold ruby glass masterpieces created under Brandenburg patronage feature an extensive amount of cut decoration, such as arches and pointed leaves carved into the glass or features that stand out, dramatically, in relief. The Corning Glass website states, “Seldom has cut decoration been so organically modeled, seemingly floating on the surface.” By the early 1700s, nearly every central European sovereign owned several costly, finely crafted ruby glass goblets, footed beakers, and tankards.

Steuben art glass dresser or vanity jar with Cerise Ruby design and butterfly lid. Sold for $220 plus the buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Auctions Neapolitan and LiveAuctioneers

Around the same time, glassworkers in southern Germany were creating simpler, less masterly red-raspberry-hued vessels in forms such as bottles, boxes, and bowls. Many were assembled from gilded-metal mounts and glass components, and some served a dual purpose. For example, certain plates and saucers, when flipped, resembled covers. Beakers were made that looked like bowls, and knobs often formed finials or sections of glassware stems. While the provenance of Southern German ruby glass remains elusive, their uniform appearance suggests a single source.

Bohemian ruby glass epergne (centerpiece). Sold for $4,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Austin Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Interest in gold ruby glassware waned by the early 1800s. However, decades later, Friedrich Egermann, a Bohemian glass decorator, discovered that copper additives would stain glass surfaces a deep red. Sales of ruby glass made with copper soared. Because these pieces were inexpensive enough for mass production but had the appearance of gold ruby glass, they eventually dominated the European market.

Victorian tea warmer with scenic dark ruby glass insert in metal frame. Sold for $400 plus the buyer’s premium in 2021. Image courtesy of Woody Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

This variety of ruby glass was most fashionable during the Victorian era. After wine-colored wine glasses, decanters, and chandeliers studded with tiny ruby glass drops were featured at London’s 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition, scores of prosperous homeowners graced their parlors with ruby glass candy bowls, vases and table lamps. Collectors sought ruby glass ground jugs, hinged boxes and tea warmers featuring stylized white enamel paintings of children at play. Others focused on delicate gold-painted ruby glass jars, cologne bottles and vanity sets.

Cranberry-to-clear glass dinner bell attributed to Dorflinger. Sold for $3,000 plus buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of DuMouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

By the mid-1800s, ruby glass was becoming popular across America, where it was known as cranberry glass. Through 1915, the Dorflinger Glass Company, based in Brooklyn, New York, created popular pattern-cut dinner bells, punch cups, cigar jars and whiskey jugs. The Indiana Glass Company produced ruby-stained and cranberry-to-clear crystal pitchers, tumblers, sherbets, goblets, serving ware and glassware. Soon after, the Fenton Art Glass Company of West Virginia introduced eye-pleasing red wine coolers, decanters and candy dishes, as well as opulent opalescent bowls, compotes, table lamps and epergnes (centerpieces). Steuben Glass, located in Corning, New York, produced fanciful ruby glass ewers, “candy-caned” vanity jars, majestic vases, lamps and more.

Twenty-first century artisans rely on selenium and rare earth elements rather than gold for making ruby glass. But their beguiling hues, ranging from pale pink to blazing red, continue to fire the imagination.

Murrine glass: masterpieces by the slice

NEW YORK – Gather different colored glass, roll it together into a cane in such a way as to create a distinctive pattern, mosaic or detailed image, then fire it at high temperature. Before it cools, cut the cane into slices to create identical pendants or beads to infuse other glassware with artistic patterns of imaginative flowers, stars, animals, portraits and landscapes that fill the room with color from the morning sun. This is the long-lost art of murrine glass.

Producing elaborate patterns of glass is an ancient art form dating to the Roman, Phoenician and the Middle East periods dating back 4,000 years. But, over time, its very practice was inevitably lost to history when most of its practitioners had died out.

An example of colorful murrine embedded in clear glass by artist Gabrile Urban created in 2019 where each of the designs was cut from a long cane of rolled and heat colored glass and rolled into the glass and formed into a drinking vessel that sold for $110 in 2020. Image courtesy Jasper52 and LiveAuctioneers

Slowly, painfully and with much patience, the art of weaving mosaics of glass into distinctive shapes and designs was revived by the early 17th century. “The technique was then refined … by the 19th century by Salviati Glassworks and Vincenzo Moretti. It reached its peak in the 20th century, thanks to Artisti Barovier and Venini & Co glassworks,” according to the article ‘Murrine glass: history and production of a Muranese icon’ on muranonet.com

Curiously, this revival took place where the art was lost to history, the islands of Murano outside Venice in Italy, and it became known in different ways.

Murrine

“The term murrina derives from Murrino, the name given in 1878 by Vincenzo Zanetti, a Muranese priest and historian, who founded the Murano Glass Museum in 1861 with the intent to restore the luster of Muranese glassmaking,” the article continues.

A covered glass cylinder box created of green and yellow flowers is a souvenir of the XV Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Citta Venezia, or Venice Biennale, and dated 1926. It sold for $1,500 (plus buyer’s premium) in 2019. Image courtesy MBA Seattle Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The art of murrine starts with different colors of long, heated glass cylinders rolled together to form a pattern of stars, flowers, shapes, landscapes or even detailed portraits. Once rolled, the colors fuse together. The glass blower pulls the hot fused glass into a long, unbroken rod called a cane, then slices the cane into individual discs or squares.

Once cut, the pattern is revealed as a cross section known as murrine (murrina singular) or murrini. With so many slices, they can be artistically arranged and rolled directly onto a clear or colored glass sheet and fashioned into bowls, bottles, paperweights, sculpture or decorative items to form distinctive colorful patterns within the glass itself.

Each of the glass murrine squares was cut and laid out into a sheet and picked up by a glassblower and shaped into its final decorative form as a vase, sculpture, glassware or even paperweight. Image courtesy: By Davidpatchen and Wikimedia Commons

Millefiori

Similar in manufacture to murrine, the glass of millefiori, Italian for “thousand flowers,” usually features a star or flower pattern rather than a portrait or a contrived landscape scene as murrine glass sometimes does. And instead of round or square slices, they are long rounded beads with a hole pierced in the center and were once known as “mosaic beads.” The hole allows a string or metal wire to fashion millefiori beads into colorful necklaces, bracelets and pendants.

Millefiori was another lost art until it was revived in the 19th century. Early versions were called rosetta beads and were manufactured in a similar fashion as millefiori until the 15th century, but the final canes were pulled from a mold, rolled around a metal pin to create a hole, then cut into spherical pieces and left to cool. Millefiori is pulled without a mold.

Mosaic beads, as they are sometimes known, are decorative murrine glass usually shaped into long glass beads that are strung to form necklaces, bracelets and pendants. Image courtesy: By User: EvelynS and Wikimedia Commons

Artists and Artistry

Hand-blown murrine glass art in the traditional square and round slices are found in the studios of artists such as Dante Marioni, Kait Rhodes, Lino Tagliapietra and Richard Ritter. Artist Loren Stump creates full portraits and landscapes of murrine glass art near Sacramento, California. An example of the art of portrait murrine is an image of poet Walt Whitman added to a glass orb of flowers and murrine glass by artist Paul Stankard in 2008 that can almost be compared to a photograph because of the high level of detail.

Glass artist Paul Stankard created a clear orb of glass flowers and millefiori to include a murrine portrait of the poet Walt Whitman in surprisingly sharp detail. It sold for $3,250 (plus buyer’s premium) in 2020. Image courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

The final designs of murrine glass catches light and imagination with its colorful swirls, patterns, and sometimes lifelike portraits and landscapes. Watching an artist fashion murrine is fascinating. How is it that colored glass rolled together, fused by fire one over another in what seems to be a random and spontaneous pattern of color and art finally reveals itself only when sliced and cooled. It is artwork all by itself.

But then each slice of art is scattered or added in a pattern to a glass sheet and hand-blown to create a second piece of art such as a vase, paperweight and sculpture, turned into glassware, a photo frame or even made into whimsical glass dolphins, dogs and fish.

We can be grateful that the art of murrine glass was rediscovered and is practiced again for our delight, hopefully to be uninterrupted for the next 4,000 years and beyond.

Ercole Barovier: Murano glass visionary

NEW YORK – Not many companies have been in continuous operation for 750 years, but that enviable claim can be made by the Italian glassworks firm Barovier & Toso, founded in 1295 in Italy as Vetreria Artistica Barovier & Co. The enterprise is still going strong today, with the new name the result of a merger with the Toso family of Italy in the 1930s. Today the company is run by Angelo Barovier, the latest in a long line of Baroviers dating all the way back to 1295. It was Angelo’s father, Ercole Barovier (1889-1974), who left a major mark on the company and the entire glassworks industry.

Ercole Barovier mosaic vase Vetreria Artistica Barovier, Italy, circa 1925, clear glass with mosaic pattern of clear, cobalt, amethyst, and emerald, rim with gold flecking, mosaico vaso Murano. 9½in tall, est. $30,000-$50,000, sold for $112,500 at an auction held Jan. 1, 2018. Nadeau’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

Ercole Barovier was born in Murano, Italy, and also died there. He joined the family business as a partner in 1919 and in 1926 was named artistic director. He was more than just a businessman; he was an entrepreneur and artistic visionary. He invented the “heat coloring without fusion” technique and from the late 1920s until his retirement in 1972 he personally designed every significant glass object produced by the company – a portfolio that boasted over 25,000 designs. Ercole Barovier lights, glass and designs can be found in major museum collections worldwide.

Beginning in 1933, Barovier designed a number of vessels with unmelted pigment dispersed in thick, clear glass as decoration. In these, he incorporated references from nature, history and contemporary art – evidence of his genius. Embellished with expressive hot-work applications, some of his creations had soft organic forms inspired by sea life and the ever-changing effect of light on water. His A Mugnoni, Medusa and Lenti series share this naturalist aesthetic, combined with the feeling of monumental sculpture most associated with the late Italian Novecento style.

In the 1950s Barovier’s interest in ancient glass and primitive objects became apparent in the series Barbarico, Aborigeni and Neolitici.  During this time period, Barovier also made poetic reference to design motifs from classical antiquity through the use of tightly controlled geometric patterning resulting in the series Moreschi, Dorico, and Argo. The Intarsio series was composed of clear and brightly colored glass tesserae and shows the influence of Op-Art. Barovier’s many bestowed honors included being named Cavaliere del Lavoro by the Italian government in 1954.

Ercole Barovier Murano Venetian glass wedding studio art glass vase with a pinched gourd design with spotted panels of blue among flecks of gold all cased in clear glass, reminiscent of Native American wedding vessels, unsigned, 10¾in tall, good overall condition, est. $500-$1,500, sold for $2,880 at an auction held Dec. 12, 2018. Hill Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

So what is it about Barovier that explains the man’s success and the company’s longevity? “Color, color and color,” declared Shane Combs of Hill Auction Gallery in Sunrise, Florida. “Ercole Barovier was fearless. He wasn’t afraid to experiment with unknown formulas to create a new and exciting color. His vast knowledge of traditional techniques combined with emerging technological advances in glassmaking made for the perfect storm. Vibrant shades and artistic designs were executed with precision and elegance unsurpassed by many of his industry rivals.”

Combs said that with the rise in demand for fine midcentury modern furniture, there’s been a steady increase in the demand for decorative accessories. “Well educated consumers are seeking the best examples to accent their homes and as a long-term investment in an often-turbulent secondary market,” he pointed out. “The quiet and deceptively simple forms of Ercole Barovier vessels and their bold colors are perfect for the well curated interior.”

Rare Ercole Barovier Tessere polychrome murrine art glass vase, colorless, cylindrical form with fused murrines encompassing amethyst, teal and blue layered triangles, opal edges of the murrines, with original paper label stating ‘MARIO SANZOGNO,’ circa 1963, 9¾in tall, est. $5,000-$8,000, sold for $18,675 at an auction held Oct. 19, 2019. Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers image

Chase Lanford of Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates in Mount Crawford, Virginia, said it’s important to recognize that Ercole Barovier descended from the legendary Barovier family in Murano. “This family had been working in glassmaking for generations before, and were already a well-recognized and respected firm,” he said. “Ercole grew up around glass and, like many in Murano, it was a way of life. I think really what makes Ercole Barovier such a revered artist is he is somewhat of a transitional figure – a studio artist before the movement ever really caught on.”

Lanford said it was Barovier’s unique merger of time-honored technique and the embracing of new technology that allowed him to push the limits of glass making and introduce a large audience to his work. “He also mastered murine construction and mosiac glassmaking, showing people the tremendous scope of color that only glass can provide,” Lanford remarked. “Glass is a medium that shows color in a unique way and Barovier showed the world a new rainbow of color. So, with him being a greatly skilled technician, having a great care of form, and expressing the latter with tremendous mosaics of color, are what brought Barovier such profound success.”

Ercole Barovier ‘Maternity’ series art glass figural sculpture, circa 1933, the stylized figure having a white lattimo glass body, with a blue/green opaque glass skirt accented with gold foil inclusions, 10½in tall, unsigned, est. $800-$1,200, sold for $1,260 at an auction held April 22, 2018. Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers image

Cristina Campion of Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California, said Ercole Barovier has always been collected by both Italian glass afficianados and interior designers alike for decades, mainly because of his Modernist techniques. “His pieces really challenged and furthered technological advancements in glass making of the 1920s through ’60s,” she said. “One of my favorite examples is the Lenti series, which used clear glass pieces having highly textured surfaces. The large oval glass pieces would be fused together, and the vases often featured beautiful gilt inclusions. This style pairs well with any Modernist home.”

Karen Swager of Brunk Auctions in Asheville, North Carolina, agreed that people are attracted to Barovier’s innovative designs and techniques, developed and revised over his long career. “His work appeals to people on different levels,” Swager said. “Some collectors may seek out pieces from a certain period in his career. Others may be more interested in the technical aspects of his work, but all can enjoy the sheer beauty of the glass.  His art glass creations can be showcased in a room or gallery with fine art and antiques or complement midcentury modern décor.”

Pezzato bicolor glass vase, designed by Ercole Barovier for Barovier & Toso, blue and white tessere fused together, label on base, ‘Barovier & Toso/Murano/21518/Made in Italy,’ 17in tall, est. $4,000-$6,000, sold for $16,640 at an auction held May 17, 2019. Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

With regard to market demand for Barovier’s work, Swager reviewed his auction records and determined the demand has been fairly consistent for the last five to ten years. “His early works from the Primavera series can bring record prices well over $100,000, but his later pieces from the 1950s and 1960s seem to bring more in $5,000 to $20,000 range,” she said. “The Pezzato bicolor vase we sold in May 2019 hammered at $13,000 with an estimate of $4,000-$6,000. In most cases, conservative estimates for Barovier’s glass have achieved higher results as I did notice some passed lots with steeper estimates. Like so many things in the antique and art markets, I suspect values for the rare and exceptional Barovier works will continue to climb and values for later examples produced during his career will continue to hold.”

Cristina Campion at Clars said that Italian Modern Design overall today is very popular. “Furniture designers such as Gio Ponti and Ico Parisi are quite collected,” she said. “As a result of this, Ercole Barovier’s pieces are highly sought-after as well. While styles may change over time, similar to the stock market, I foresee that renowned glassmakers like Barovier will always retain their inherent value.”

Ercole Barovier bowl, Italy, 1957, glass tesserae, iridized transparent glass, Incised signature and date to underside: ‘Ercole Barovier 1957,’ 3½in tall, est. $7,000-$9,000, sold for $13,000 at an auction held May 23, 2018. Wright and LiveAuctioneers image

Shane Combs at Hill Auction said the rarity of early Barovier glass has been underappreciated for years. “The rising demand for his early innovative pieces using mosaico or murrine construction are seeing record setting prices when presented at auction,” he said. “We’re likely to see rising prices for average pieces as the market expands. Museum quality examples are likely to emerge from estates as popular culture catches on to the trend.”

6 Decorative Art Pieces To Prettify Your Home

An intersection of beauty and function is displayed in this week’s collection of decorative art pieces. Among this collection are stellar glass and pottery works, complemented by a few select paintings. Take a look at these six highlights from the collection.

Czech Bohemian Cabochon Glasses

A Czech Bohemian glass decanter and cocktail four matching glasses provide an elegant note to an intimate setting.

Five-piece Czech Bohemian cabochon art glass decanter and glasses, circa 1940. Estimate: $700-$800. Jasper52 image

 

Rollin Karg Glass Sculpture

Rollin Karg is a renowned glass artisan from Kansas, who designs and creates spectacular sculptural pieces from molten glass, usually shaped in a free-form, asymmetrical manner.

Rollin Karg glass sculpture, 1999, 16in x 11in. wide. Estimate: $700-$800. Jasper52 image

 

Fostoria Heirloom Console Set

A Fostoria glass console set in the Heirloom pattern consists of a centerpiece and two candleholders. The 1950s set in pink opalescent is estimated at $150-$200.

Fostoria Heirloom console set, opalescent glass, 1950s. Estimate: $150-$200. Jasper52 image

 

Hutschenreuther Vase

An 8-inch bulbous porcelain vase designed by Hans Achtziger (1918-2003) for Hutshenreuther, the Germany company known for its fine quality dinnerware and figurines, has a distinct mid-century modern motif (est. $300-$400).

Hutshenreuther porcelain vase by Hans Achtziger, Germany, 8 in high. Estimate $300-$400. Jasper52 image

 

After Vassily Kandinsky Oil on Canvas

A large and colorful oil on canvas painting after Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky should bring $700-$800.

After Wassily Kandinsky, hand-painted oil on canvas, ‘Spitzeen em Bogen,’ 39in x 29in. Estimate: $700-$800. Jasper52 image

 

After Van Gogh Oil on Canvas

The Old Mill, an oil on canvas painting after Van Gogh, is expected to top $1,000.

After Van Gogh, oil on canvas, ‘The Old Mill,’ 24in x 29in. Estimate: $1,000-$1,200. Jasper52 image

 

View the full collection of unique objects. You’re sure to find something to delight your home and collection.