Art Collection

Glass art: multifaceted messages

Glass is a part of everyday life, and its some 9,000 years of history simply makes it one of the oldest materials used by mankind. Already at a young age, children easily understand how form and function combine in most objects made of glass.

But glass is more than just functional and decorative. Art made of glass requires special talent: an ability to work with this amorphous solid material; skill in simultaneously combining aesthetics and functionality in one work; playing with transparency and revealing the colours of the spectrum – in other words, creating an extraordinary non-verbal form of expression. Secretive, dynamic, remote or intimate: glass art sends a multifaceted message.

Today’s glass art as we know it was established in the 1950s, the heyday of the legendary “Fucina degli Angeli”, the Forge of Angels, led by Venetian master glass craftsman Egidio Costantini. Here, in Murano, numerous sketches of contemporary artists such as Jean Arp, Jean Cocteau, Max Ernst, Jean Lurçat and Pablo Picasso were transformed into three-dimensional glass objects by some of the best glassblowers of that time. This creative movement gave rise to a new field, namely glass art.

The pieces pictured here include works from the “Fucina degli Angeli”, from the studio glass movement that emerged in the 1960s in the U.S. and Europe and works from individual studios. They are part of the Peter and Traudl Engelhorn glass art collection, located in the Museum of Contemporary Design and Applied Arts in Lausanne, Switzerland, otherwise known as the “mudac”. The collection’s roots date back to the 1960s with the acquisition of 36 works from the “Fucina degli Angeli”. Today it holds some 550 pieces from artists around the world and continues to grow year after year.

The extraordinary versatile and complex artist Pablo Picasso was not only a painter but also a sculptor, graphic artist and ceramist. In 1954 at the invitation of arts patron Peggy Guggenheim, Picasso met Egidio Costantini, the master of the legendary glass manufatory “Fucina degli Angeli” in Venice. The artist was immediately inspired by the possibility of using traditional glass blowing techniques to create modern art. Costantini interpreted some of Picasso’s designs and sketches in glass, including his bull motif.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) / Egidio Costantini (1912–2007) Toró, 1966
Solid glass, formed with sculptural molten glass, 22 × 21 × 10.5 cm, Fucina degli Angeli, ed. 1/3

»The Persistence of Memory« is one of the most famous paintings from Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. A three-dimensional interpretation of this work was first created as a sculpture edition in 1970 for the renowned French crystal studio Daum.

Salvador Dalí (1904 –1989), Montre molle, 1970
Pâte de verre/glass paste, 105 × 50 × 25 cm, Daum, ed. 105/150

The Figura sculpture based on a sketch by Picasso was created in the glass studio of Egidio Costantini in Venice, and demonstrates how the dissection of an object gives rise to a new reality. A gourd-like shape in gold, transparent glass is crowned by a curved glass rod in various shades of blue that depicts the features of a face.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) / Egidio Costantini (1912–2007), Figura, 1963
Blown glass, with sculptural molten forms, 38 × 31.5 × 10 cm, Fucina degli Angeli studio originale

Hans Arp is a pioneer of modernism, known as a Dadaist and surrealist, writer and visual artist. His biomorphic, organically rounded shapes are both concise and complex. Arp’s sense of humour and lightness, of openness and changeability characterises not just his œuvre but also his individual works: He would playfully cut or tear whimsical shapes out of paper, using these to create collages, reliefs and sculptures in all sorts of materials. The three graces have been a homage to female beauty since classical Greek antiquity, with this glass version providing an opportunity to behold the female figure from all sides.

Hans Arp (1886 –1966) / Egidio Costantini (1912–2007), Les Trois Grâces, 1962
Glass, hot-formed and polished, 63 × 12 × 12 cm, Fucina degli Angeli, one-of-a-kind

Franz Xaver Höller is internationally regarded as one of the best glass artists. Born in the Bavarian Forest region, he discovered glass at an early age, becoming an expert in working with the properties of this material. He often borrows from traditional functional glass to create his minimalist forms, but the works are objects in and of themselves. His preferred purist forms aim to lend a psychological dimension to a work, which functions as an interaction on different levels of meaning.

Franz Xaver Höller (*1950) Polare Ordnung, 1984
Glass, cast, ground, partially polished and engraved, 6 × 62 × 42 cm

Before her tragic early death in 1983, the Berlin sculptor Jutta Cuny-Franz was one of Europe’s most important female artists working with glass. In the mid-1970s, she began creating unique pieces: heavy, thick industrial glass plates and blocks, shaped by sand blasting to create multifaceted sculptures. Her work opened up innovative and exciting ways to artistically work with glass, which today still provide direction in the medium.

Jutta Cuny-Franz (1940 –1983) Semper virens, 1981
Glass plates, layered and sandblasted, 30 × 30 × 30 cm

Flat, irregular facets form crystallised shapes that refract and reflect the object’s textured base. George Thompson created numerous similar small »pyramids« whose designs especially reveal the brilliance of glass. The contrast between clear, smooth and textured surfaces also adds excitement. George Thompson, who studied architecture at the University of Minnesota, joined Steuben Glass in 1936, working there as a designer until 1975. He primarily designed luxurious functional pieces in line with the new direction the company took in the 1930s.

George Thompson (Daten unbekannt) Pyramidon, 1969
Lead crystal, cast, ground and polished, 18 × 11.5 × 12 cm, Steuben Glass, one-of-a-kind

The Pittsburgh native artist David Dowler holds a prominent position among American glass artists. He once said that a work had hit its mark only when a viewer would say they did not think it was possible to do that in glass. The same applies to his pyramid: a design that is impeccably clear, elegant, ground and polished, and completely made by hand after his concept. The viewer’s gaze wanders with fascination across the surface, the breathtaking clarity of the glass mesmerising right to the piece's very centre.

David Dowler (*1944), Pyramid, 1977
Leas crystal, cast, cut, polished and engraved, 23 × 31 × 31 cm, Steuben Glass, ed. 7/30

Passion is what informs the creative process of Scottish artist Eric Hilton. The glass expert relocated to the U.S. in 1971, joining Steuben Glass shortly thereafter. It was here he would go on to create his elaborate designs where process plays a key role. The artist compares his working processes – creating a shape, etching, cutting, sandblasting and polishing – to how a painting is gradually composed.

Eric Hilton (*1937), Point of Departure, 1981
Lead crystal, cast, ground, polished and engraved, 23 × 14 × 14 cm, Steuben Glass, one-of-a-kind