A Reflection on Verre Églomisé
Reflections from polished stone, gilt metal, giltwood, water, mirror, and glass is often a quality that I work to introduce into the rooms we decorate. Reflections change with light and movement and immediately give life to a space. A particularly remarkable and artistic way that we have introduced reflection into our recent projects is through panels of verre églomisé.
These works have been created for us by the artist Miriam Ellner. Ellner works in all stylistic traditions. She excels in the contemporary. Here she can use her ability as a painter to its best advantage. For a client in Chicago, she designed the remarkable panels shown below that incorporate their love of nature and subtle biographical references, such as passport stamps from foreign lands and family photographs.
The art form of verre églomisé can be described as reverse painting on glass. The process has several steps, starting with etching the design, setting it off with color, and then gilding precious metals to it. The gold and silver metals, of course, are the reflective ingredients that give it its mirror like effect.
Historically, verre églomisé is an ancient medium that underwent a great evolution of technique as technologies changed. It began with application on bowls and vessels, then later added as a feature into furniture and mirrors, and finally with the advent of sheet glass and then plate glass, wall decoration. Within room settings, the effect is truly transformative and magical.
I met Ellner in the early 1990’s. I knew about verre églomisé from the famous panels salvaged from the Normandie and installed at the café bar at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There were also fine examples in the lobby of The Manhattan House apartments where we previously had a client. It was a thrill to meet Ellner, an artist who could make panels of equal beauty.
A Short History of Verre Eglomisé
This technique was first used by the Romans. The earliest known example, a vase, dates from the 3rd century BC in Canosa, Italy. The technique was used commonly throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance starting with reliquaries, devotional panels, and caskets.
By the 17th century, it became fashionable in England for use in mirrors followed by buttons, insets and beautifully decorated Bohemian drinking vessels. It owes its name to an 18th-century French picture framer, Jean Baptist Glomy, whose specialty was the ornamentation of picture frames with sheets of decorated glass that became very popular.
Russian artisans took this genre further during their Golden Age in the 1790’s using both curved and larger sheets of glass for small tables and desks. These pieces were produced in a specialized workshop at the imperial glass factory in St. Petersburg.
By the19th century, the technique became more widely used. Panels were often seen on clocks and pier mirrors. The ability to make larger plates of glass led to more architectural uses including whole shop fronts which often combined advertising and decoration. Trade signs were commonly painted in reverse. There are still a few rare examples in New York of Optimo Cigar signs. In the early 20th century, the French reinvigorated the art of verre églomisé, including the famous panels that form the Normandie. In the latter half of the century, Miriam helped to revive the art again.
Photos from top: These glass paintings using various precious metals and polychromes and utilizing different techniques including verre églomisé, stencil work, translucent layering, collage, and reverse painting; Ellner made these hall panels and fireplace covering for clients who wanted to create the effect of a forest of bamboo within their New York apartment; verre églomisé panels by Jean Dupas from the Normandie now at the Metropolitan Museum; bowl fragment from 4th century A.D.; beaker from 16th century; circa 1790 Russian desk from the workshop of Heinrich Gambs and Jonathan Ott.