To celebrate the opening of Nature by Design: Botanical Expressions (December 7, 2019-January 10, 2021), Object of the Day this week will feature objects from the exhibition.
Growing up in Nancy, France, in the 1850s, Emile Gallé liked going to the city’s botanical gardens and walking the surrounding countryside of Lorraine. His interest in nature further expanded when he took classes with Professor D. A. Godron,[i] and their botanical expeditions led the young student to draw animals, insects, and plants. Gallé’s career as a designer started some years later when he worked in his father’s faience and furniture firm. Shortly after, he established his own glass studio, and took over the family business in 1875. At its height at the turn of the twentieth century, Gallé’s workshop employed around 300 workers.[ii]
At the same time, he continued investing in his career as a botanist. Gallé was the secretary of The Société Centrale d’Horticulture de Nancy from its foundation in 1877 and also temporarily edited the organization’s journal. In 1880, he was also made a member of the supervisory committee of Nancy’s botanical gardens. But if science allowed Gallé to understand plants and organisms better, he also believed that this scientific knowledge should never be applied directly in his works, where a more nuanced perception was necessary to express nature’s subjective and complex qualities.
This tall vase with a wide base and flared mouth depicts peach and amber flowers on a yellow background. Gallé represented close to 200 varieties of plants in his work in glass, wood, and ceramics, so there are countless species he may have chosen to reproduce artistically in this piece. His experiments with color mixing in making glass should be understood as both scientific exploration and an affinity with nature: not only were these color combinations made with natural materials, but the mixtures emulated the appearance of precious and natural hard stones, as well as the diversity of shading within nature. [iii]
Mina Warchavchik Hugerth is a graduate of the History of Design & Curatorial Studies master’s program offered jointly by the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Parsons School of Design. She served as the Curatorial Capstone Fellow for Nature by Design: Botanical Expressions.
[i] François Le Tacon, “Émile Gallé, Botaniste et Scientifique”, Médecine/Sciences 21, no. 12 (2005): 1096.
[ii] Philippe Garner, Emile Gallé (London: Academy Editions, 1990), 27.
[iii] Valerie Thomas, “Émile Gallé and Nature: Types and Influences in His Glass,” Art on the Line, no. 1 (2007): 4-5.