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Who was one of the most versatile artists of the Art Nouveau Movement?

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Art Nouveau
by Uta Hasekamp

Art Nouveau was a phenomenon with many faces. Between 1890 and 1910, artists developed a variety of styles from the plant-like forms of the Belgian-French Art Nouveau to the ornamentation of the Viennese Secession. They were all striving to create a new, modern style and pursued a comprehensive renewal of art and, in some countries, a renewed national identity.


                                   
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QUESTION:  

I’ve always had a thing for fancy perfume bottles. Those beautifully made, curvy and senuous ones from the turn of the 20th century are my favorites. Recently, I purchased several at antiques in my area. I don’t know anything about them except that I really like them. Can you tell me something about them?

 

Thanks,
Paul

_________________________________________________________

ANSWER: For one thing, you bought these perfume bottles because you liked them—what every good collector should do. And for another, you have great taste and know beauty when you see it.

With their elegant shapes, brilliant facets, and creative presentations, vintage perfume bottles evoke the luxury and glamour of a bygone age.

The Egyptians created the oldest known perfume bottle around 1,000 BCE. They used scents lavishly, especially in religious rites. When they invented glass, they used it to make perfume vessels.



The history of scent is ephemeral. The aromas of pressed lilies from the Nile banks or the precious ambergris, once worth more than gold, would be hard to imagine if people never smelled them. While the scent of these delicate perfume ingredients vanishes over time, the beauty of the vessels that contained them live on.

Some of the earliest distilled and mixed perfumes came from ancient Mesopotamia, India, and China. Ancient Egyptian perfume vessels date back to at least the Middle Kingdom.

Delicate and beautifully crafted as symbolic vessels for the wealthy to keep with their personal cosmetics. Perfume containers could be carved from stones such as travertine marble or molded from faience. The Egyptians used colorful glass for their cosmetic and perfume vessels. They crafted these using a process called core-forming, in which artisans dipped a soft form in molten glass at the end of a rod. Once the glass hardened in the shape of the form, they scraped out the soft interior form to create a hollow vessel.

The artisans of 18th Dynasty Egypt, lasting from 1549 to 1292 BCE, became famous for their exquisite core-form works, often featuring striped patterns in rich colors. This style of glassmaking spread to Classical Greece. Known as alabastrons, these perfume bottles could be shaped like vials or like amphorae.

With the invention of blown glass in the 1st century BCE, the Egyptians eventually discontinued making core-formed vessel .From there, like core-forming, glass blowing spread to the rapidly expanding Roman Empire. By most accounts, upper-class Romans loved perfumes anointing themselves from their hair to their feet.

The fashion for perfumes required large-scale production of perfume bottles. The process of blowing glass created a new art form. More translucent and faster to produce than core-formed or cast glass, glassblowing encouraged a rapidly growing, ever-creative industry within the Empire. Besides being beautiful, these blown glass perfume bottles were non-porous and affordable.

The production of perfumes in Europe didn’t begin until the late Middle Ages. Perfumers formed guilds, encouraged by royals and their courtiers, to grow and protect their budding industry. The Italians perfected alcohol-based perfume, called aqua mirabilis, or marvelous water, was a powerful scented concoction. The need to bottle these luxurious perfumes coincided with the growing Venetian glass industry.

During the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, perfumes came in exquisite vials. Venice became known for producing delicate, thin glass vessels in a style known as cristallo, or clear glass). This façon de Venise spread around Europe throughout the Renaissance, as both perfumery and glassmaking gained in popularity.

By this time, perfume bottles could also be much smaller, so that people could wear them on chains around their necks..The scents of the nobility were often lavishly housed, sometimes in n carved agate and gold set with rubies. These personal perfumes were handy in a world where bathing and personal hygiene were primitive at best.

The fashions and artistic movements of the day heavily influenced European perfume bottles of the 18th century. Crafted in glass, porcelain, or even white glass masquerading as porcelain, scent bottles were no longer the sole provision of the fabulously wealthy.

Borrowing from Neoclassical styles, the scrolls and gilding of Rococo design, and the Romantic pastoral scenes, perfume bottles followed the artistic trends of both painting and the decorative arts. Production of perfume vessels was also no longer exclusive to Italy. Artisans produced; fine examples in Vienna, London, and other cities.

While Neoclassical designs were popular in Europe, Americans preferred ornate decoration and cut or molded glass perfume bottles. Jewelers such as Loui
s Comfort Tiffany created luxury perfume vessels for the most affluent consumers using agate decorated with gold and sapphires in an Art Nouveau style.

French jeweler René Lalique became known for his frosted glass perfume bottles. Many 20th-century perfume bottles featured an atomizer, a late 19th-century invention that produces a fine spray from a liquid. While perfume brands had name recognition in the 19th century, the bottles and brands became identifiable as part of a larger fashion trend.

Decorative Perfume Bottles
First developed during the late 19th and early 20th century for both advertising and merchandising purposes, perfumers developed ornate perfume bottles to successfully market their fragrances. In order to do so, theyy used imaginative elements and shapes to decorate the glass bottles, with the intention of catching a prospective buyer's eye before they even smelled the scent. From vanilla to sandalwood to rose-scented perfumes, these glass and porcelain bottles were just as beautiful as they were practical.

Of all the creators of Art Nouveau perfume bottles, René Lalique, noted for his impeccable artistry in glass design, was perhaps the most legendary. His illustrious career began in 1881 as a designer of jewelry. He eventually took over the workshop of jeweler Jules Destape in Paris. For nearly a decade, Lalique concentrated exclusively on fine jewelry design, but by 1890 he began his first experiments in designs using glass.

Lalique’s glass items mimicked the natural forms, curvilinear designs, and stylized women of his Art Nouveau jewelry creations. His perfume bottles in particular propelled his reputation as a talented glass designer into an international sensation. He first began to design them at the request of his neighbor, legendary parfumier François Coty, who greatly admired Lalique’s designs. In 1907, Coty commissioned Lalique to first design labels, and then bottles and flasks. These were among the first forays that Lalique made into glassmaking.

Perfume bottle creation reached its peak during the Art Nouveau period. Techniques such as pliqué-à-jour enameling particularly set these pieces apart from bottles of any other style or period.

The graceful, undulating curves that are typical of the Art Nouveau style were particularly well suited to silver overlay. Most bottles featuring this technique were crafted from clear glass, so those examples that feature colored glass are today the most sought after by collectors.

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