Charles Schneider: Art Deco Glass Genius
by Thomas Karman.
Edited by Angela Bowey
Above: Examples of Schneider glass from the Author's Collection.
(pic8asmall, pic20asmall, pic23asmall).
Since ancient times "Wind, Earth and Fire" were combined to form glass. Both useful and decorative, this medium is the window to our world here, and it can magnify for us the stars of the universe. When artists use this medium, they invite us to share their visions, and they captivate us with the beauty of their creations.
Fast-forward to France in the first quarter of the 20th century where the Art Nouveau movement was ending an ornate period that had begun with quiet Victorian grace. Enter the glass artist Charles Schneider, who began his work in 1918 within the customary motifs of Art Nouveau, but soon mesmerized the world with flamboyant designs that heralded a bold vision of the future. This new design movement was later called Art Deco after the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Moderne in Paris in 1925.
And the world was tired of war and receptive to new trends. In order to appreciate fully the character of Schneider's glass, it is important to visualize the setting in 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 syncopated 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.
Prior style changes seem strained by comparison, like timid attempts at new visions, a quiet evolution. But with Art Deco the transformation burst forth like a flood, an elementary force, spontaneous and vigorous, changing concepts and challenging limits, leaving in its wake glorious tributes to human creativity.
The post-WWI period was a fertile period for creating art glass, and nowhere was Art Deco's vibrant spirit displayed more flamboyantly than in France, and no one was a more fervent, and more controversial, champion of Art Deco than Charles Schneider. As he was leading the charge into a new age, ahead of his time, he produced an immense variety of spectacular designs, which must have provoked controversy in those days.
Having apprenticed at the renowned firm of Daum Frères, the talented artist and glass designer Charles Schneider together with his brother Ernest, opened the family glass works at Epinay-sur-Seine in France. Called up for military service in WWI, they did not begin the production of art glass until after the war. Their new firm was destined to become a strong force in the French art glass field, both commercially and because of its creative impact, and they continued until the early thirties, when the worldwide depression derailed their business along with many others.
Charles was the genius behind designing their two lines of art glass, one signed Schneider or Schneider France, the other signed variously as Le Verre Français, Charder (a contraction of his first and last name), or with a half inch tri-color (red-white-blue) glass rod, sometimes called a 'candy cane', fused into the piece. The name for this kind of signature is "Berlingot" and it was used only for very early pieces.
Above: Schneider signature.
Above: Le Verre Francais signature
Above: cane insert
Above: Charder signature.
Sometimes the Schneider signature was preceded by a drawing of an amphora, and early pieces may also bear the Cross of Lorraine. Generally speaking, signatures before 1925 were in script, mostly engraved but sometimes enamel-painted. After 1925 Schneider signatures tended to be acid-stamped in block capital letters. The company's cameo pieces used several signatures. The most common is "Le Verre Francais" in script engraved on the foot or the base of the piece. Sometimes the name of a department store in New York City called Ovington was acid-stamped on the base along with "France". Less commonly the Charder signature appears in cameo, sometimes used in conjunction with the Le Verre Francais signature.
For a more detailed discussion of signatures on Schneider, Le Verre Francais, and Charder glass (with plenty of illustrations) see Joulin & Gerold Maier's 2004 book "Charles Schneider" or Edith Mannoni's earlier book "Schneider".
During its heyday, in 1926, the Verreries 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, actual 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.
The Schneider reputation was enhanced by the firm's participation in the International Decorative Arts Exposition 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 (1881-1953), 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.
This article focusses on the range of glass designed by Charles Schneider. The distinguishing characteristics of Schneider Art Glass are his unique designs and his unusual use of color.
Bold, intense color 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, like the vase shown on the right. This vase is a rare shape for Schneider, and was made in the early 1920s, circa 1922. It measures 12" (30.5cm) tall, and is signed "Schneider France".
The objective was perhaps to shock, but whatever the intent, the effect certainly compels attention.
The vase on the left (above) juxtaposes bright blue and red, with a striking square-cornered top. It is an overlay vase measuring 11 ¾" (30 cm) tall and was made around 1924.
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. The vase shown below typifies this kind of combination, with its applied orange rigarees. It measures 7 ½" (19 cm) tall and was made around 1924.
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.
Of the 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 cameo vase shown below is a superb example of Le Verre Francais "Poissons" (Fishes), one of the most sought-after patterns. This design symbolizes the spirit of Art Deco, with its shape and decor expertly harmonized and its ambiance of random bubbles and the green bottom. It is signed Charder in cameo on the side and Le Verre Francais in script on the side of the base. It measures 4" (10.2cm) tall and 5" (12.7cm) in diameter, and was made circa 1927.
There are several broad categories in the Schneider line, within which exist literally dozens of variations. Listing the general types in somewhat of a chronological order, we start with the early hand-carved cameo pieces in the then popular Art Nouveau tradition, some of which were designed by Schneider's friend, Gaston Hoffmann.
The vase shown below on the left is an acid-etched cameo glass vase designed by Gaston Hoffmann, which measures 4½" (11.4cm) tall and was made between 1919 and 1924. Beside it, on the right, is an Ewer from the Arbousier series which measures 12" (30,5cm) tall and was made about 1921.
Schneider's very artistic series of decorative vases and footed bowls called coupes bijoux (jewels) with stylish shapes and applications were popular from the early years (1918) to around 1926. These usually had an amethyst stem and foot, but occasionally were executed using other colors as the examples below show. On the left is a Coupe Bijou with a rare yellow foot. It measures 7 3/8" (18 cm) tall and was made about 1921. In the centre is a Coupe Bijou which measures 8" (20 cm) tall and was made about 1926. And on the right is a Coupe Bijou with a bright orange foot which is 7 ¼" (18.4 cm) tall and was made about 1921.
Three more Coupe Bijoux are shown below, on the left a 6" (15cm) tall Coupe Bijou made c. 1926. In the centre is an early example of a Coupe Bijou, made around 1920. Its height is 5½" (14cm). And on the right is a Coupe Bijou with an optically blown bowl, measuring 9" (23 cm) tall and made c. 1922.
Generally speaking, Coupes Bijoux are ranked in value by their number of colors; a second consideration is the color of the foot; if not amethyst, it increases their desirability. Other considerations would concern the size and the way the piece is made. Some Coupes have intricate stems, are matte or polished, are adorned with applications, or have unusual pulled rims, etc.
The Coupe Bijou shown on the right above ranks high since it is tall, has four colors, a colored foot, a stem formed of balls, and an optically blown bowl. Add the color contrast between the bowl and its support, and you have an Art Deco masterpiece which is a focal point in any setting.
Miniature pieces are elaborate works of art, blown before a lamp. They should not be underrated when compared with large pieces. These vases bijoux, be they vases, vessels or perfume bottles, are rare examples that exhibit the great skills necessary to create such unique works of art.
The Coupe Bijou shown below on the left has a rare white bowl, its height is 6¾" (17 cm) and it was made c. 1927. On the right is a matte finish Coupe Bijou with a very clear Schneider signature in enamel on the foot. The rim was pulled with tongs to form eight gentle points, its height is 6 ½" (16.5 cm) and this one was made circa 1921.
Until early 1926, Schneider also created miniature pieces - perfume bottles, small bud vases, delicate footed bowls, etc., - all around 4" or less, blown before the lamp and decorated with applied blossoms, vines, leaves, and external glass powders. Three of these miniature pieces are shown below. The footed bowl on the left is just 2 ½" (6.3 cm) tall and was made about 1923. It has flameworked applied flowers and the black-trimmed rim is pulled up on each side. In the centre below is a perfume bottle with a hollow blown stopper which measures 3 ½" (9 cm) and was made c. 1921. And on the right is a miniature vase with applied blossoms & vines, measuring 4" (10 cm) tall and made c. 1922.
Bud vases were also a popular creation of Schneider's in the 1920s. Three examples are shown below. The 6¾" (17 cm) tall version on the left was decorated with externally applied powders, and was made c. 1925. In the centre is a miniature Berluze vase with applied prunts, which measures 4" (10 cm) tall and was made c. 1920. And on the right is a miniature footed bud vase, height 4¼" (11 cm), made c. 1924.
Schneider also offered an extensive selection of footed bowls and chalices (coupes à pied noir) which had a trademark translucent amethyst foot (black looking), mostly lustrous but at times finished matte for added distinction. Occasionally the stem was anchored in wrought iron like the one shown below.
Above: Coupe on wrought-iron foot, height 8 ½" (21.5 cm) c. 1924.
Above: Series Filetés Ewer, height 9" (22cm) c. 1922.
The most intricate segment of Schneider's work are pieces with applied wheel-carved decorations. The beautiful medallion on this vase represents a poppy in shades of amethyst, set against the smooth matte cream surface of the vase, which is 9½"(24 cm) tall. It was made circa 1924.
Schneider designed several cased glass series (Filetés, Marbrines, Jades, Ecaille) showing vases with extremely colorful internal decorations, again some with fanciful shapes. The vase shown below is from the blue-green Ecaille (Tortoise-shell) series. The shoulders of this vase are pulled outwards to form four points or corners, and the glass is decorated internally with random bubbles and coloured streaks of blue, green red, amethyst and white which enhance its art deco spirit. It is 8¼"(21 cm) tall and was made about 1926. A similar vase in shades of pink and brown is illustrated on page 121 of Edith Mannoni's book "Schneider".
One cased glass series called Cloisonné (with décors Love, Menuet, Parmélie) is extremely rare. Two examples of this series are shown below. On the left is a small bowl 5½" (14 cm) tall, in the décor named "Love". It was made about 1926. And on the right is a vase which combines ochre with amethyst to produce an intricate design, especially effective in this tall vase (17¼" or 43 cm). The décor is called Parmelie and it is, according to all accounts, among the rarest of Schneider's patterns. It was made around 1927.
This sophisticated ball vase shown below truly represents refined art deco elegance: Seated on a flat slab of amethyst glass and shading from clear to peach, it has randomly applied amethyst bands around the upper part with the body below acid-etched to resemble melting ice. Its height is height 5½" (14 cm) and it was made c. 1928.
In this article we are showing only a broad outline of the variety of Schneider's designs. We have chosen pieces which show the main features of Schneider art glass. But during the same period many other types and styles were produced.
Le Verre Francais cameo glass was a separate line of art glass designed by Charles Schneider. Production duration parallels that of the glass signed Schneider, i.e.1918 -1933, and both lines had a common beginning where crossovers occurred. There are early cameo pieces signed Schneider and conversely, some cased glass bears the candy cane signature. But starting in about 1919 some far-reaching business decisions were apparently made, because from then on the two lines were kept strictly separate, to the extent of even having separate sales locations in Paris.
The two pieces shown below are early examples of Le Verre Francais coupes, from 1918-1919. On the left is a Coupe Feuilles d'Oseille, height 6¼" (16 cm); and on the right is a tiny cameo coupe, with its hand-carved orange design showing over glass coloured by internal gold-coloured metal flecks. It is just 3" (8 cm) tall and has a "Berlingot" or candy-cane identification piece in the base (front edge).
Le Verre Francais (LVF) art glass is hand-blown and then normally decorated through acid-etched rather than hand-carved cameo. Helmut Ricke, in his scholarly volume "Schneider France - Glas des Art Deco", describes the LVF manufacturing process: "A mottled layer of colored powder was put upon a colorless base, covered by a relatively thick-walled clear layer in between, and finally topped by a solid layer of usually two colors. One color had its greatest density at the bottom of the vessel, the other at the top. Both hues merged midway in the piece. The ultimate appearance was defined by the subsequent etching process. Through stencils the intended design was covered with protective lacquer and the remaining color layer was removed by lowering the piece into an acid bath. Many times a second etching process was used to outline details on the design itself."
The three "Le Verre Francais" vases shown below are superb examples of this process. On the left is an example of the décor series "Cypres". This series is not only rare but one of the few décors that does not repeat and continues on around the vessel. It is an uncommon example of a striking, exceptional art deco pattern. The tall silhouette of the vase is suited perfectly for this cypress tree décor. The height is 12" (30 cm) and it was made circa 1927. In the centre is an example of the "Papillons" (Butterflies) décor which is 14" (35.5 cm) tall and was made circa 1924. And on the right is a beautiful example of the décor 'Palmiers Bleus' (Blue Palm Trees). While having a round opening, the vase itself is ovoid, seated on a round Schneider type amethyst base. Its height is 18" (45.7 cm) and it was produced about 1927.
pic 23a, 29a, 92a
The pieces produced in this manner are uniform only in their initial method of decoration. They were individually blown, sometimes further etched by hand for added embellishment. Their range of designs and combination of colors is truly breathtaking, and there is an unmistakable exciting energy in these works, a visual reminder of art deco essence.
All Schneider glass achieves its impact through a combination of design, shape and color. The relatively short time of production permits a fascinating view of the transition from art nouveau to art deco. During the early years, designs were executed in more conservative hues, so that just by noting the color, one can roughly date a piece. As time went on, the designs became more stylized in the art deco manner, and the colors brightened. Toward the end of the 15-year span, the production of both lines of glass came full circle to a common finish: In the early 1930s, both concluded their production with unicolor pieces, where only shape and cold decoration, like etching, determined the work's character. The blue vase shown below measures 12½" (31.7cm) tall and was made c. 1928. It is from the Schneider "Fibrille" series (1928 - 1930) and the only decoration is its deeply etched art deco pattern.
Late in the 1920s and continuing into the early 1930s, thick-walled pieces embellished by heavy structural applications were produced by Schneider, completing the 15-year span of work. The vase shown below was produced about 1929, showing the heavy thick walls with internal flecks of gold and silver metal and bubbles, together with the surface application of clear glass which has been described as "like a rock dripping with icicles" (Mannoni, "Schneider", page 120). It measures 13" (33 cm) tall and is a rare example of this design.
Charles Schneider's contribution to art glass is an extensive, exceedingly varied, hand-blown body of work produced within a short period of time, demonstrating a cross section of glassmaking and decorating skills. His work used every known decorative glass technique, i.e. 'hot' work such as internal decorations, applied glass, imbedded glass, overlaid glass; and 'cold' techniques like enameling, acid treatments, wheel-carving, etching, engraving.
The Schneider Glass Works closed even before World War II, unable to continue when the Wall Street financial crash affected the market for expensive art glass. After the war Charles's son Robert took over leading the re-opened company as well as the artistic effort. But the era of dramatic colored glass artistry was history. Much like art glass producers all over the world, save for the Italians, the Schneider firm switched to the serene elegance of clear crystal. The crystal Cormorant, shown below, was made in 1957. It measures 17" (43cm) and is a typical example of the Schneider post WWII work.
Charles Schneider contributed occasional designs until his death in 1953, but he never resumed the position of influence in the glass world that he occupied during his glory years from 1918-1933. That short span of fifteen years remains as the focal point of his lasting contribution to Art Deco glass. His spectacular designs added zest to life in the 1920s, and they continue to be relevant in our age through their timeless sophistication and stylish exuberance.
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 panoply of colors which burst upon the senses like fanfares heralding a new age! And after the crescendo, suddenly silence... - an era had passed, the colors faded and with them the unique style of Charles Schneider, never to be created again. Fortunately for us, his masterpieces are a testament to the glory of glass history.
About the Author
Tom Karman and his wife Irmie are long-time collectors of art glass and fine art. The pieces selected for this article are from their personal collection. Tom has published articles about Schneider art glass in national magazines, as well as lectured on Schneider glass at local and national glass club meetings. He is retired from the American Red Cross and the U.S. Army Reserve. In addition to researching and writing about Schneider glass, he serves as a Schneider glass consultant to institutional and private clients.
His enthusiasm for Schneider glass is based on the breathtaking colors and elegance of these creations, which not only vividly embody the spirit of Art Deco, but also fit amazingly well into our contemporary life style and décor.
References and Further Reading:
- Schneider, by Edith Mannoni, 1992 (in English and French).
Les Pates de Verre, by Edith Mannoni, 1990 (in French).
20th Century Factory Glass, by Lesley Jackson, 2000.
20th Century glass, by Judith Miller, 2004.
Art Glass: How to Compare & Value by Louise Luther, 2002.
- Millers 20th Century glass, by Judith Miller, 2004.
French Cameo Glass by Berniece and Henry Blount, 1982.
Schneider France - Glas des Art Deco, by Helmut Ricke, 1981 (in German).
- Schneider Maitre Verrier. by Gerard Bertrand, 1998 (in French)
Charles Schneider by Joulin & Gerold Maier, 2004 (in German, French, and English)
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