René Lalique was the most famous glassmaker in the world during the peak of the art deco era of the 1920’s. From jewelry to perfume bottles to his celebrated hood mascots, he not only designed prized pieces, but also developed industrial techniques for mass production to bring glass objects to the average household.
Although born in 1860 in in a small French village called Ay, located in the Marne region, Lalique grew up in Paris after his family moved when he was an infant. René attended the Collège Turgot and began learning art and design when he was just twelve years of age. After the death of his father during his teenage years, René was apprenticed to Louis Aucoc, where he learned jewelry design from a master jeweler and goldsmith. He also enrolled at École des Arts Decoratifs, and later spent two years at the Crystal Palace School of Art in London, where he continued to hone his craft.
Returning to Paris in 1880, René worked as a freelance designer for many prestigious jewelry houses including Cartier and Boucheron, before taking over the workshop of jeweler Jules Destape on Place Gaillon in 1885. Lalique’s Art Nouveau jewelry work continued to gain notoriety. He set up business on Rue du Quatre-Septembre in 1887, registered his RL signature in 1888, and two years later opened his third workshop at 20, Rue Thérèse.
It was in the 1890’s as his reputation as a jeweler soared. He won competitions, his work was commissioned by the world’s wealthiest people, and he became the darling of celebrities, designing jewelry for high-profile entertainers like Sarah Bernhardt. It was during this decade that he also started experimenting with glass.
In 1905 he began exhibiting his glass works with the opening of yet another shop at 24, Place Vendôme. Here, his work was discovered by perfumer Francois Coty, who asked him to design perfume bottles. Their manufacturing innovation revolutionized the perfume industry, making perfume available to the masses.
Lalique continued to focus on glass for the rest of his career, designing many objects such as vases, statues, clocks and tableware in addition to perfume bottles and jewelry, and it was for his Art Deco style glasswork in the 1920’s that he became truly famous. Founding a large-scale glassworks factory in Alsace in 1921, René now had the manufacturing center he needed for his work to become prolific.
By the 1930’s his company grew to 600 employees and his glassware was being sold across Europe and the Americas. As his fame grew, so too did the types of commissions Lalique received. In 1929 he was selected to design the carriage decoration of the Côte d’Azur Pullman Express, and later he would create a fountain that for some time resided at the Galerie des Champs- Elysées, glass doors for Prince Yasuhiko Asaka’s Tokyo residence and perhaps his largest undertaking, the interior design of the first-class dining room of the luxury ocean liner, the Normandie.
René Lalique died in May 1945, but the company continued to thrive under the direction of his son, Marc Lalique, and later his granddaughter Marie-Claude until 1994 when it was sold to French company Poche.
René Lalique married his first wife, Marie-Louis Lambert around the time he opened his first workshop in the mid 1880’s. They had one child, Georgette. The marriage ended in divorce in 1898.
He met his second wife, Augustine-Alice Ledru, the same year he opened his new jewelry shop at 20 Rue Therese in 1890. They had their first child Suzanne Renee in 1892 and their second, Marc Andre, in 1900.
Lalique’s third child came in 1907 with Claudine Juliette Le Mesnil: Rene Claude Le Mesnil, followed by two more children, Raymond (1925) and Renee (1927) with Marie Anére.
Over the course of his career, Lalique created over 1,500 glass models. These included everything from tableware, pitches and vases, to paperweights and light fixtures, mirrors and frames, perfume bottles and menu holders to hood ornaments and opulent jewelry. He created a plethora of objects to fill everyday household needs to the purely decorative.
There were 29 Lalique ornaments designed as mascots. Most often animal designs, including frogs, eagles, boars, peacocks, rams, and foxes, there were also nude figures and a shooting star. The mascots were made with glass and used satin and frosting finishes. In addition to the mascots themselves, Lalique also designed lighting inside the base of the ornament so that it could be lit up to draw even more attention
Cire Perdue are glass pieces made by carving the design into wax from which a plaster or clay mold is created, imprinting the design onto the mold. The mold is later heated, allowing the wax to melt and drain out, leaving a mold into which molten glass is blown or poured into the mold. Once the glass cools, the mold is broken open. Lalique’s Cire Perdue pieces are highly prized as each mold could only be used once, making each piece a one off.