Corning Museum: recent additions to glass collection

The Corning Museum of Glass is a dynamic institution that actively collects, educates, preserves, and shares the art, history, science, and technology of glass and glassmaking. New objects are added to the Museum’s collection each year through acquisitions and donations. Recent highlighted additions to the glass collection include a reverse-painted portrait on a glass mirror depicting a Mughal nobleman, an engraved railroad lantern likely made as a memento for the Central Pacific Railroad, and a Steuben vase that belonged to the company’s famous “27 Contemporary Artists” series.

The Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass houses the world’s most comprehensive collection of materials on the art and history of glass and glassmaking. Recent additions to the Library’s holdings include a portfolio of watercolour designs for Art Nouveau lamps and light fixtures and six botanical watercolours executed by Paul Nicolas, a talented artist who worked for Émile Gallé.
Vase with Cubist Composition (“Twenty-Seven Contemporary Artists” Series), designed by Fernand Léger (a French painter, 1881-1955), represents one of the most ambitious and significant projects undertaken by Steuben Glass: its “27 Contemporary Artists” series for a special exhibition which opened in January 1940 at Steuben’s Fifth Avenue showroom in New York City. The series featured designs by eminent artists, including Salvador Dalí and Georgia O’Keeffe. Twenty-one of the original 26 design drawings were given to the Museum in 2000 by Corning Incorporated. Steuben did not keep an example of each design, and as such, the Museum is constantly on the lookout for these remarkable pieces, whether they are sold privately or at auction. Earlier this year, the Museum was contacted by an auction house in Ohio that wanted to know more about a 1939 Steuben vase with a Cubist composition designed by Léger. The owner’s parents had bought it from the show at Steuben in 1940, and had kept the original packaging. The vase came up for auction last July and the Museum was able to acquire it.
To Die Upon a Kiss is the name of a newly-acquired chandelier created by Fred Wilson, an artist born and raised in New York City, but of African-America, Caribbean, European, and Native American descent. He has gained international recognition for his installations and “museum interventions,” as he calls them, that explore art and artifacts in museum collections, revealing the racism, gender politics, and cultural stereotyping embodied in museum practices. To Die Upon a Kiss was created in Murano, Italy, in 2011, and is inspired by the highly decorative chandeliers found in palaces and grand homes lining Venice’s Grand Canal. The title relates the dying words spoken by Othello, the lead character in Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, and a North African who is arguably one of the most famous black personalities in history. With its rich black elements fading up into a pale transparency, the chandelier specifically speaks to mortality, and the gradual ebbing away of life. It suggests that at the end of one’s life, race melts away in the commonality of death.
The Transcontinental Railroad Lantern features an engraved pictorial scene that includes two steamships and a passenger train moving through a forest. The lantern, made about 1860-1870, was likely designed as a commemorative item or gift, rather than for practical use as a signal lantern. An engraved inscription reads, “Central R. Road Line NY and San Francisco.” This likely refers to the Central Pacific Railroad, the California company that built the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Manufacture of lanterns for the railroad industry was a major component of many American glassmaking firms throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This style of lantern is now referred to as a fixed-globe lantern, featuring a glass globe cemented to the metal armature. This is the earliest type of railroad lantern, used primarily from the 1830s to the 1870s. Later lantern styles favoured removable globes that could be more easily swapped out when broken.
Goblet in “Monticello” Pattern, 1940 features the “Monticello, 5700” pattern, which were inspired by the neoclassical architecture of Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Charlottesville, Va. A catalogue in the Rakow Library’s collection, For the Bride: Modern American Glassware (1945), features the design: “The master designer Thomas Jefferson would have liked this stately pattern, as American in feeling as Monticello’s columns. […]” This goblet is part of the “Modern American” line produced by Libbey Glass Company in 1940. The Modern American series became the last handmade glass produced by Libbey.
Although the tradition of glass furniture began in the early 19th century, it was the opening of the 1851 Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London that prompted the development of larger, more elaborate furniture. From about 1875 until 1920, wealthy Indian families bought quantities of large-scale furnishings from two companies in the U.K., F. & C. Osler of Birmingham and Joseph Webb of Coalbourne Hill, Stourbridge. For much of the 19th century, Osler maintained a Clacutta showroom to serve this important clientele, and indeed, Osler was the manufacturer of the Museum’s newly acquired side chair, created between 1860 and 1900. The 37 individual glass and metal elements in the Side Chair are assembled together over a brass and wood armature, characteristic of 17th-19th century Indian design.
Reverse-painted Portrait on Mirror Glass Depicting a Mughal Nobleman, perhaps Nawab Shahamat Jang, is one of the very few 18th century paintings on glass of this scale and quality that have survived. Although the technique of reverse-painting on glass originated and thrived in China, this newly acquired piece, created between 1760 and 1780, relates to centers of Mughal painting in the later 18th century, such as Avadh and Murshidabad. The silvered upper half of the painting reflects the Murshidabad practice of the 1750s of having gold or silver grounds for the sky. Various details of this image suggest that the painter is copying a Murshidabad portrait of a nobleman seated on a terrace from around 1750-60. A similar individual, identified as Nawab Alivardi Khan, is depicted in conversation with his nephews in a portrait in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It was similarities to one of the nephews in this painting that helped to possibly identify the nobleman in this new acquisition.
This recently acquired goblet, together with several undated examples from the same period, all relate to the Treaty of Münster of 1648, part of the wider Peace of Westphalia that gave recognition to the de facto division of The Netherlands by granting independence to the Seven Provinces of the Dutch Republic in the north. Among the Catholic population, this object may be interpreted as exhibiting a hankering for the political order that existed under the Hapsburg dynasty. The goblet, created in Austria between 1550 and 1599, is engraved with the arms of the Hapsburg Philip IV of Spain andtheHoly Roman Empire of the German Nation, and two other unidentified coats of arms. The upper part of the bowl depicts the arms of the Seventeen United Dutch Provinces, symbolizing either friendship or political attachment.
The Museum recently acquired a series of Geissler tubes, made in Germany or France between 1890 and 1910. A Geissler tube is a sealed glass cylinder, often spiraled or shaped to demonstrate an interesting property of physics. These tubes take their name from Heinrich Geissler (1814-1879), a physicist and highly skilled glass blower, who made precision instruments in Bonn, Germany, in the 1850s. Scientists used Geissler tubes to explore and illustrate the complicated connections between electricity, magnetism, materials, and the ether, a fluid then thought to carry electrical and magnetic fields. Variations of these tubes led to the discovery of the electron, as well as the design of fluorescent and neon lighting, x-ray machines, and the cathode ray tube, which is at the heart of radar, TV tubes, the oscilloscope, and many other display devices. From the 1880s, Geissler tubes were mass-produced and on display to public audiences in Europe, demonstrating the wonders of electricity and conveying the power of science.
The Museum’s Rakow Library has acquired this portfolio containing 48 original watercolour designs for lamps and light fixtures in Art Nouveau style, compiled around 1912, but never published. Featured lighting styles include table, pendant and street lamps, and torcheres, incorporating a range of materials, such as painted wood, silk, enamelled crystal, bronze, iron, marble and various trimmings. The final design plate is a unique one; a drawing of a table aquarium, complete with goldfish and a small gray seahorse. The green cover displays the title embossed in red and black ink; the inside cover, a mounted trade card reading, “E. Cazes Dessins, 8 Avenue de Petit-Parc, Vincennes.” Each design plate includes the blind stamp of the studio, and all but three of the 48 bear handwritten descriptions in the upper right corner. The portfolio was purchased by a Belgian dealer at a small French book fair, and an antiquarian bookseller in Cambridge, Massachusetts contacted the Rakow Library about the item.  Provenance of Luminaire prior to the Belgian owner is as yet unknown.
Émile Gallé was passionate about nature, studying botany as a young man and writing extensively on the intersection between art and nature. To meet his high standards of design and production, Gallé filled his workshop with talented artists who sketched out his ideas in detailed drawings and watercolours, which Gallé would then create in materials as diverse as glass, wood and metal. Paul Nicolas, a young architect from Vosges, France, who joined Gallé’s firm in 1893, was one of these talented draughtsmen. Nicolas, like Gallé, was interested in botanical forms, and his designs on paper elegantly capture the curving grace of a bent stem, the delicate striations of colour on a carnation, and the beauty of an unopened bud. The Rakow Library recently acquired six watercolours executed by Nicolas, possibly designs for enamelled or cameo glass. All of the drawings were done just prior to the 1900 Paris exhibition, where Nicolas earned a bronze medal for his work for Gallé.

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