Originally published in ECHOES Magazine Summer 1999 Volume 8, Number 1
A Symphony in Glass:
The Legacy of Charles Schneider
Thomas C. Karman
Charles Schneiderís stunning creations are being rediscovered by American glass connoisseurs, and rightfully so. When history finally judges the great innovators of French art glass, taking his deserved place next to his contemporaries Daum and Lalique will be Charles Schneider. He, more than any other glass artist of his time, designed and crafted pieces that not only vividly embody the spirit of the Art Deco style, but transcend its era. Sophisticated glass enthusiasts have realized that Charles Schneiderís works fit amazingly well into our modern lifestyle and decor. That timelessness alone affirms his status as one of the foremost French glass artists of the Art Deco movement. Anyone who appreciates glass should take the time to study the great variety of his works, and doubtless will be attracted by the elegance of Schneiderís designs and the harmonious simplicity of his compositions.
It has been said that Schneiderís work was inspired by the French impressionists and that his colorful internal glass decorations evoke images of their art. An even more appropriate parallel can be drawn between Schneider glass and Fauvism, since both are distinguished by the use of bold, sometimes distorted, forms and vivid colors, and both continue to generate excitement by their revolutionary approach. At any rate, in this instance the affinity between fine and decorative art forms is readily apparent.
Charles Schneider began his work within the accepted design norms of the Art Nouveau movement, but soon fashioned a bold vision of the future with the variety of art glass he produced. In order to appreciate fully the character of his glass, it is important to visualize the world for which it was originally created:
Josephine Baker was conquering Paris with her songs;
Kurt Weill premiered the Three Penny Opera in Berlin;
prohibition in the USA could not inhibit - or perhaps intensified - the rhythm of the Charleston.
The glorious Roaring Twenties... is the backdrop against which Schneider glass was designed, produced, and accepted by an appreciative public. It reflects the exuberance and excesses of that time.
The distinctively colored Schneider Art Glass was produced for a relatively brief period from 1918 to approx. 1932 by Cristallerie Schneider at Epinay-sur-Seine, France. Two brothers, Charles and Ernest Schneider, formed their own glass works in 1913, after having worked for the firm of Daum Freres in the beginning of the century. Ernest Schneider had been the marketing manager for Daum, and was probably responsible for much of the commercial success of Daum glass in those early years. Charles worked for Daum as a part-time designer, and at least one known Daum piece indeed carries the additional signature of Schneider.
After serving in WWI, the brothers finally began to produce their own art glass in 1918. Charles was the creative genius behind the enterprise. The distinguishing characteristics of Schneider Art Glass are due to his unusual combination of intense colors and his unique designs. If one were to choose a theme for the entire Schneider Art Glass period, it would be transition, because the short span of production between 1918 to 1932 presents a visible, traceable passage from Art Nouveau to Art Deco, in color, silhouette and decor.
Bold, intense colors is one of the hallmarks of Charles Schneider's creations. He used color schemes to make his statements through deliberate juxtaposition of vibrant, audacious colors in unconventional combinations: Brown with blue, red versus green, purple next to yellow. The intent was perhaps to shock, the effect certainly compels attention. Far more subtle and sophisticated are the combinations of contrasting, yet related hues, i.e. orange and violet/red, faded pink and vermillion, or rose through violet to bright blue. These color combinations sound impossible on paper, yet when they become visual reality the impact may be startling, but never gauche. Added elements in the composition were always the shape and the treatment of the glass, in a given vessel perhaps one color acid-etched matte, the other fire-polished lustrous.
Similarly, Schneider transitions out of the Art Nouveau style, with its elaborate shapes and lavish decorations, when he designs pieces with a new simplicity, the planes relieved by applications, and the rounded contours contrasted with jagged angles. Drawing upon antiquity, yet at the same time following modern design concepts of the period, he imbued his creations with that timeless essence which makes them remarkably compatible with a contemporary milieu.
One must remember that Schneider was the head of a commercial enterprise, not as artistically independent as studio artists like Decorchement or Marinot. But Schneider did a magnificent job in combining artistic imagination and design with production on a large scale, thereby making a thoroughly aesthetic product available to the public at an affordable price.
Charles Schneider produced two separate lines of art glass. The Schneider line, considered by him to be the more artistic line, is exceedingly varied with regard to technique and design. The line of acid-etched cameo glass, named Le Verre Francais, is considerably more uniform throughout the period, and over the years varied mostly in color and decor. The early colors were muted, with darker hues, while in later years the colors brightened. The decor motif consisted almost exclusively of subjects from flora and fauna, which were presented increasingly more stylized in the Art Deco manner as the years passed. Schneider kept these two lines totally separate, to the extent of even having two separate sales locations in Paris.
Schneider glass has certain distinctive features by which it can be recognized. One is the use of the color amethyst for the foot/base, stem or handles. This glass looks black; however, when viewed against the light shows to be translucent amethyst. These amethyst bases began as raised mounds before 1925, flattened out as time went by, and became slabs of round glass by 1927/8 and for later pieces. Early stems were characterized by white striations running lengthwise over the amethyst, the entire stem cased in clear glass. While amethyst was the norm, sometimes other colors like green, orange or yellow were used for the bases, and these pieces are considerably more rare. The amethyst bases were also used for some Le Verre Francais pieces. Similarly, pieces with other than amethyst stems or handles are equally more desirable. Also rare is the color white, which Schneider used very sparingly.
Schneider, in the manner of glass artists of his period, insisted on having all of his work bear his signature. Therefore one should be cautious about acquiring any pieces, purported to be Schneider or Le Verre Francais, without the appropriate signature. Likewise, in view of the increasing number of reproductions and down-right fakes that are surfacing, it is also a good idea to study the glass, know its colors and signatures, to be sure that even a signed piece is not an inferior substitute. Conventional wisdom translates Ďcaveat emptorí into Ďbecome a knowledgeable collectorí.
Pieces in the Schneider line were signed Schneider or Schneider France. Sometimes, the signature was preceded by the drawing of an amphora. Early pieces may bear the additional Cross of Lorraine. Generally speaking, signatures before 1925 were in script, mostly engraved, but sometimes painted on in enamel. Signatures after 1925 tended to be acid-stamped block letters.
The cameo line used several signatures. The most common is Le Verre Francais in script, engraved on the foot or near the base of the piece. Less common is the Charder signature in cameo, and rare when engraved. This signature is a contraction of the first and the last name of Charles Schneider. Early pieces are signed by having a 1/2 in. stick of red/white/blue glass fused into the base. Such a signature for Le Verre Francais is commonly referred to as a "candy cane". There is evidence that some very early Schneider pieces were also signed with this tricolor "candy cane". Both Schneider and Le Verre Francais pieces can have the additional signature of specialty stores like Ovington, or Ovington New York.
During its heyday, in 1926, the Cristallerie Schneider employed approximately 500 craftsmen, many of whom had prior experience working for Galle or Daum. Their employer, Charles Schneider, was primarily a glass artist, a glass designer. He developed the entire line of production designs, but he was also totally involved with, and in charge of, production. It is said that out of 700 sketches, he would use perhaps 50. In the Schneider line he specified not only the design, but also the precise color tone and the process. Reportedly he was personally involved in the production of many pieces. For the Le Verre Francais line, he insisted on the designs, but left the artisans more leeway in choosing the colors and the shape.
Unlike Lalique, for instance, where the design is the overriding achievement and the execution is performed mechanically, Schneider pieces are hand-made and required several skills to be combined for a successful work. Generally, a production team of five craftsmen produced each of the pieces, all of which were hand-blown at the furnace - except, of course, the miniatures which were blown and decorated before the lamp -, and therefore even pieces from large production series are never uniform and always carry the markings of individual craftsmanship. Decorations were often internal, cased with clear glass; when external, Schneider utilized every facet of hot and cold decorative processes, from marquetry techniques and applications to wheel-carving, etching and engraving. The intense colors were achieved through the use of colored glass powders, and while Schneider was not the first, nor the only one, to use that technique, he must be credited with using it boldly and with great finesse.
Records from those days are sparse. Information is available primarily in French or German, and even that is largely anecdotal. Production figures, for instance, have apparently not survived. Current availability of pieces, or lack thereof, would lead one to believe that certain models were created in greater numbers than others. Design complexity and corresponding production intricacies surely played a role in the numbers produced, as undoubtedly did the public taste of the time. But still, there is not even a clue anywhere as to how many pieces of a given model series may have been created. However, the variety of pieces as far as design, color combination, and shape, is seemingly endless and only partially documented. I have studied Schneider Art Glass for many years and still come upon pieces that are not listed or depicted in any reference material.
The Schneider reputation was enhanced by the firm's participation in the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris in 1925. Because Charles Schneider was a member of the jury, neither he nor his firm won any awards for their notable exhibits, but he was later awarded the Legion of Honor. During his lifetime (1881-1954), Charles Schneider was repeatedly recognized by his peers for his achievements. In 1907 he received the Bronze Medal of the Society of French Artists, and in 1926 the same society again honored his artistry by awarding him the Silver Medal.
The stock market collapse, which signaled the beginning of the Depression, shut down the North American export market and contributed to the demise of Schneider Art glass. The public taste changed and, as in most other glass works around the world, no further colored art glass was produced by Schneider after the early 1930s. An era had passed.
Charles Schneider started the glass works anew after WWII, with his son Robert taking over the artistic direction, and son Charles Jr. managing the business aspects. The master himself served as an occasional designer until his death in 1953. Although the firm existed until 1981, the production consisted mostly of clear glass, some pieces with faint coloration which literally paled in comparison with the hues from the 1920s. Yet, despite only a relatively short period of colored art glass production, it can be said that Charles Schneider and his glass works left their imprint on art glass history.
Today, Schneider Art Glass can be found in many museums in Europe as well as in the United States. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts has a large collection, as does the Glas Museum Hentrich, part of the Kunstmuseum in Duesseldorf, Germany. Many other museums have examples in their decorative arts holdings, including the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. On the open market this glass is scarce, and intricate pieces in pristine condition are very difficult to find. Prices are scaled to the type, size, intricacy and condition of a given work, with constantly upward trends. This holds true whether the signature is Schneider or Le Verre Francais. It must be noted, however, that pieces from later years (late 40s to 60s) carry considerably lower price tags. The steadily rising demand seems to indicate that today's public is equally captivated by the genius of Charles Schneider.
Schneider Art Glass was ahead of its time, capturing a slice of the future and revealing it piece by piece. For little more than one glorious decade, there was the excitement of daring designs and a symphony of color which burst upon the senses like fanfares heralding a new age! And after the crescendo, suddenly silence... - an era had passed, and with it those breathtaking colors and the unique style of Charles Schneider, never to be created again. Fortunately for us, his legacy is adding to the glory of glass history.
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Copyright © 1999 by Thomas Karman All rights reserved.