French Art Glass and the Schneider Brothers

A Le Verre Francais cameo glass vase in pink | $800-1,200

Glass has been a beloved medium for artistic expression since ancient times, and France has a rich history of creating exquisite glass objects. Throughout the centuries, French artists have made significant contributions to the field, dating back to the Middle Ages when they adorned grand cathedrals with magnificent stained-glass windows.

A Le Verre Francais cameo glass vase in purple | $1,800-2,400

However, it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that French glassmakers truly established themselves as world leaders. Renowned artists such as Emile Gallé, the Daum brothers, Gabriel Argy-Rousseau, René Lalique, and Charles Schneider emerged during this period and gained global recognition for their innovative work. Many of these artists drew inspiration from historical artefacts unearthed at archaeological sites and displayed in museums. One notable influence was the Portland Vase, a remarkable Roman cameo vase crafted between 1-25 CE. Its intricate design sparked a resurgence of interest in cameo glasswork, influencing glassmakers like Josiah Wedgwood, who recreated the cameo look in jasperware, Emile Gallé, who utilised the medium to create stylised floral and fauna decorations, and the Daum brothers, who introduced their cameo glassware at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893.

At the turn of the 20th century, another pair of brothers, Charles and Ernest Schneider, began their artistic glassmaking journey in Epinay-Sur-Seine, a suburb of northern Paris. Younger than their contemporaries Gallé and the Daum brothers, the Schneider brothers initially worked for Daum but eventually ventured out on their own. In 1913, they reopened an old glasswork factory under the name Schneider Freres et Wolff, with the architectural assistance of Henri Wolff, a friend of Charles Schneider. Charles, a talented and versatile designer who had studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Nancy and Paris, held his first exhibitions in Paris in 1906. From 1913 to 1914, the company produced high-quality vases, ewers, bowls, and lamps. However, the outbreak of war disrupted their operations as their workforce was mobilised and they had to halt production for several years. In 1917, they resumed operations, focusing on producing glassware for hospitals and laboratories. To finance their return to the art glass market, they sold shares and renamed the company Societe Anonyme des Verreries Schneider. Charles Schneider initially emulated the style of Emile Gallé but gradually developed his own distinct artistic approach. He employed a wide range of colours, combining them in subtle blends or striking contrasts, particularly in his cameo work. Schneider became renowned for seamlessly blending Art Nouveau and Art Deco elements, and his later designs played a significant role in shaping the Art Deco movement. His unique creations gained immense popularity not only in France but also overseas, particularly in the United States, where the fascination with all things French was growing. Throughout the 1920s, Schneider’s designs dominated the glass scene, and the company successfully marketed its glassware to prestigious retailers in Paris and abroad. Eventually, the Schneider brothers repurchased their shares and renamed the company Verrerie Schneider.

A Le Verre Francais cameo glass vase in violet | $1,500-2,000

Most Schneider pieces bear distinctive trademarks, typically signed “Schneider”, “Charder” (a contraction of Charles Schneider), “Le Verre Francais”, or featuring a sketch of a two-handled ewer, a small glass cane of blue, white, and red, or a combination of these markings.

During the depression of the 1930s, the Schneider brothers faced a significant setback as their US market collapsed and their brilliantly coloured glass fell out of fashion in France. Moreover, their prolonged court battle against David Gueron (DEGUE glass) for plagiarism, though successful, drained the company’s finances. Tragically, in 1937 Ernest Schneider passed away. After 15 years of being synonymous with luxury and modernity, the Schneider glassworks filed for bankruptcy in 1939.

However, the Schneider name would later experience a revival through another pair of brothers. In 1949, Charles Schneider Junior and his brother Robert-Henri founded Cristallerie Schneider, establishing themselves as formidable competitors to Daum France in both style and quality. Although the factory ceased operations in 1981, pieces from Cristallerie Schneider are currently gaining favour among a younger generation of design enthusiasts.

Madeleine Norton / Head of Decorative Arts & Art, Sydney

Banner Image Left to Right: A Le Verre Francais cameo glass vase in pink | $800-1,200
A Le Verre Francais cameo glass vase in purple | $1,800-2,400
A Le Verre Francais cameo glass vase in violet | $1,500-2,000

August 2023