Specialist Joy McCall answers seven key questions for prospective buyers of the legendary French glassmaker’s exquisite pieces. Illustrated with lots offered in the Lalique sale on 15 May in London
You only have to look at a piece by René Lalique (1860-1945) to realise that the designer had a unique approach to glassmaking. There’s a clarity and precision in his designs that pieces by his contemporaries and imitators lack; Lalique was able to control glass masterfully, using the material to realise his creative vision.
Lalique first began to experiment in the early 1900s, having enjoyed a successful career as a jewellery designer working in some of the world’s top ateliers. Glass became the focus of his work for the next 40 years — the artist embracing changing styles including Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Modernism.
Lalique’s inspiration was always nature, whether it was the human body — particularly the female form — birds, fish or plants. Although he returned to the same subjects, each new interpretation of them was distinctive.
The fan-tailed fish on the Yeso panel pictured at the top of this feature dive across the surface of the glass, while the large fish on the Anvers bowl, above right, swim through and around seaweed.
The female figures he depicts on vases, plates or as car mascots are mythological and timeless — as exemplified by the opalescent Voilée Mains Jointes statuette from 1919, above.
Although factors affecting value are a consideration, the designer’s work is so varied that a personal collection can be shaped to your own taste and budget, from around £500 upwards to nearer £50,000.
Those beginning a collection might also consider buying by object. Lalique designed a huge variety of pieces, including lighting, vases, bowls, plates, decanters and glasses, car mascots, scent bottles, jewellery and statuettes, to name but a few. As well as being a designer, he was a super salesman, selling a vast quantity of pieces on the international market, and establishing a reputation for quality and luxury that continues more than 60 years after his death.
Some collectors aim to collect particular designs in every colour produced — the Perruches vase, for example, is available in tones including teal, lime, amber, electric blue, cased red, emerald, cased yellow, cased jade and opalescent.
It can be confusing to discover two seemingly similar items priced with different pre-sale estimates. Different colours have different values, with clear and frosted pieces usually less expensive than coloured works. The rarity of a particular colour for a given design also affects its commercial value, as, of course, does the number of people seeking a specific colour at any given time. In some instances, it’s possible that there are only a handful of similar vases.
Cased pieces — consisting of two or more fused layers of glass, rather than a single layer — are also more likely to command a higher price. The process of casing made production more costly, resulting in works that are less translucent, with a greater depth of colour. Shades of a single colour may vary too, and, on some occasions, a piece may feature staining — such as the jade-green and white-stained Scarabées vase above — all of which can impact on value.
Cracks, chips, nicks, bruises and filled drill-holes should be noted. Damaged glass is almost impossible to restore, although attempts are made to rectify issues that have arisen.
Damage to exceptionally rare works, however, can be considered less significant than damage to designs that are easily available. On occasion, pieces are polished or cut down in an effort to make them appear more presentable than they would be with obvious flaws.
Lalique items may be re-signed to appear older than they actually are. Pre-war works, made during René Lalique’s lifetime — he died in 1945— are usually signed R. Lalique, regardless of whether they are engraved, wheel-engraved, stencilled, moulded or intaglio.
Post-war works are normally just signed Lalique France, and are sometimes accompanied by the letter R in a circle. Unlike marks, staining added to an item at a later date does not seem to impact its value negatively, but may in fact have a positive effect — probably because, in some instances, it is difficult to establish when a stain was added, and also because staining may add definition to the design as it appears on the surface.
Cire perdue is an ancient form for casting a unique piece, in which a wax model is covered in plaster. It is then heated and the liquid wax removed and replaced with molten glass. Once cooled the plaster mould is destroyed. Cire perdue items have an absence of mould lines and are not polished. The clematis vase below conveys some of the most distinctive aspects of Lalique’s style: his artistic talent for stylised naturalistic elements and his flair for composition.
The elaborate floral and foliage motif on the piece is enhanced by the delicate staining, and shows the influence of Japonism. Lalique’s knowledge of and admiration for nature is evident in his Art Nouveau period, but he continued to develop his love of naturalistic motifs throughout his entire career.