Loetz Cameo and Acid Cutback Decoration
AN EXPLORATION OF LOETZ CAMEO AND ACID CUTBACK DECORATION
by Warren R. Gallé, Jr.
Special thanks to my friend and fellow Loetz Advisory Group member Andy Jelcic for letting me bounce ideas off him while writing this article. Thanks also to the rest of the Loetz Advisory Group (Deb Fitzsimmons, Tony Ellery, Kai Hasselbach and Dave Littlefield) for their ongoing advice and encouragement.
There are several terms that deal with the use of acid in altering the surface of glass to produce a decorative effect. By way of definition, we will turn to Miller's Glass Fact File A-Z:
- Acid cutback: Design produced by acid etching the outside of two or more layers of cased glass.
- Acid engraving: Surface treatment using hydrofluoric acid and potassium fluoride. First the object is covered in wax or glue, then the design is cut into the coating and etched onto the glass surface. (In the US known as needle etching).
- Acid etching: Matt-surface treatment, obtained by exposing the glass to fumes of hydrofluoric acid or baths of hydrofluoric acid. Designs are made by first coating the glass with wax, then scratching the pattern through the wax layer. When applied, the acid will eat away the glass but not the wax.
- Acid finish, AKA satin finish: Matte surface obtained by acid etching.
- Acid polishing (cut glass): High-gloss polished surface obtained by dipping the object into hydrofluoric and sulfuric acid. Items are immersed either once in a string solution or repeatedly in a weaker one to burn away dull edges.
- Acid stamping: Signature applied to glass using etching acid on a rubber stamp.
- Cameo glass: Roman technique of cutting through layers of different colored glass to obtain a raised design. The most famous example of cameo glass is the Portland Vase in the British Museum, which dates between 300 B.C. and 50 A.D. The Chinese used a similar technique for making intricately carved snuff bottles in the 18th and 19th centuries. European glassmakers revived the process in the 19th century: Thomas Webb in Great Britain (mostly white outside, colored ground with classical or botanical motifs), Gallé and Daum (naturalistic work in multiple colors) perfected this difficult and expensive technique. Also known as cameo engraving and relief cutting.
For purposes of this article, we will be concentrating mainly on acid cutback and cameo engraving - techniques that leave a carved design in relief on the glass surface. With the exception of a few of the etched silberiris examples, all of the pieces here are considered acid cutback. The cameo glass presented in this article is an exclusive subset of acid cutback - multiple colored layers that may require multiple applications of acid along with further refinement with an engraving wheel.
If one looks at the production of the Loetz factory at the turn of the century, it is easy to see that the focus above all was the production of iridescent glass. In the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, while Emile Gallé was dazzling the world with cameo carved glass with multiple overlays, Loetz director Eduard Prochaska and the painter / designer Franz Hofstoetter were preparing iridescent glass in spectacular new forms and complex Phaenomen decoration which, in competition, was directed more at Tiffany than at Gallé.
As the glassworks matured, the reasons for using (or not) acid cutback decoration varied - artistic vision, war (and a shortage of hydrofluoric acid), financial constraints, and market demand were all factors to be considered. This article is a review of all the types of acid cutback decoration employed by Loetz to meet its artistic and market needs.
Made in small series only between 1902 and 1905, vessels with colored opal glass interiors were coated with a layer of highly iridescent silver-yellow powder, and then a stenciled decoration was etched in acid. Most were done in acid cutback; however, a couple of decors (including the leaf patterns) were acid etched (the pattern is below the surface). Rival Bohemian firm Wilhelm Kralik Soehne also produced vessels in this manner. Two decades later, the Steuben Glass Works in the USA produced their own line of acid cutback iridescent pieces. Examples from the Loetz production are shown below:
Here are acid cutback pieces produced by Kralik and Steuben:
ADOLF BECKERT (1884-1929)
As the production of Phaenomen glass began to taper off (after 1904), Loetz turned its attention to other techniques: paperweight type vases (Hubertus, Melusin, Titania, etc.) and iridescent glass with applied elements. It was Adolf Beckert who brought back acid cutback decoration with a vengeance. In fact, no designer in the history of the firm had a more significant impact on the appearance of the glass works' production, or its artistic image. Apart from being one of the only permanently employed artists at the Loetz factory, Beckert was the only artist appointed as "artistic director" in the history of the firm, serving in this capacity from 1909-1911, although he may have been involved with designs for the firm as early as 1906. Artistically, the Beckert-designed cutback pieces are on a very high level, especially as compared to the earlier "etched silberiris" or the subsequent mass-produced pieces made for the French market. His acid cutback pieces are complex works featuring melusin, crystal, or colored grounds with multiple overlays and intricate natural motifs. He used some forms of his own design, but also some designed by Leopold Bauer, Otto Prutscher, or Josef Hoffmann. Pieces are sometimes signed with his monogram "AB", more rarely "A. Beckert", or "Loetz" in relief on the side. Some examples of Beckert's work for Loetz are shown below:
WIENER WERKSTAETTE, OESTERREICHISCHER WERKBUND, FINANCIAL DIFFICULTIES AND WAR
The Wiener Werkstaette were founded in 1903, principally by Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann. Between 1903 and 1915 only twenty designs of the Werkstaette were realized by Loetz. Most of their designs were executed by Meyr's Neffe (Adolf), Johann Oertel & Co. (Haida), or Ludwig Moser Soehne (Karlsbad). Loetz was typically used only for specific types of glass, such as Blitz, Schaum, smooth crystal, or opal glass. Designs came chiefly from Josef Hoffmann and sometimes from Otto Prutscher. However, it was also a practice of the Werkstaette to order for sale glassware that they had neither designed nor commissioned because of relationships the Werkstaette had with the designing artists, such as the aforementioned Adolf Beckert and also Marie Wilfert-Waltl. Etched pieces provided by Loetz to the Wiener Werkstaette were designed by Adolf Beckert and Josef Hoffmann. Note that these etched works are not cameo glass, but acid cutback pieces where the decoration is created in one step and in some cases augmented with enamels. Two examples are shown below (the one on the left is by Beckert, the other by Hoffmann):
More opportunities to work with talented designers came from the Oesterreichischer (Austrian) Werkbund, founded in 1913. The goal of the group was to send a delegation to the Werkbund Exhibition in Cologne in 1914 with a cross-representation of Austrian industrial art. The Austrian glass industry was given its own room at the exhibition. Freelance architect Caesar B. Poppowits was given responsibility for setting up the room containing the Austrian art exhibit, and he even designed two pieces for the exhibit himself. He requested designs from several of the Werkbund membership, which were executed by Loetz in 1913 and 1914. Those members were Hans Bolek, Arnold Nechansky, Dagobert Peche, Michael Powolny, Milla Weltmann, Carl Witzmann, and of course Josef Hoffmann. Although Loetz's association with the Werkbund only lasted two years, there were lasting benefits. The beginning of a long relationship with Hans Bolek and the success of the striped designs inspired by Michael Powolny (such as Ausfuehrung 157) are two examples. Acid-etched designs for the Werkbund Exhibition of 1914 came from Bolek, Witzmann, Peche, Milla Weltmann, and Hoffmann. It is worth mentioning that the iconic designs by Hoffmann and Bolek from this time have been widely reproduced, even today. The originals are quite rare, so one must be careful when evaluating pieces that come up for sale.
There were no further commissions from the Oesterreichischer Werkbund after 1914. The outbreak of World War I drew attention elsewhere, and the association lost its significance. Further complicating matters for the Loetz firm was that during this period of artistic collaboration, in May 1911, a bankruptcy process was initiated, which led to significant reductions in the glass works' personnel. Unfortunately, artistic director Beckert's position was a casualty of the process.
Occasionally, designers working directly or through a retailer with the Loetz firm would execute a piece created with acid cutback techniques. These are quite rare, but they are worth mentioning. The first of these pieces shown below is by Spaun family friend and designer Marie Kirschner, ca. 1909, in dark luminous blue with an outer layer of pansy. The second is an earlier work by Jutta Sika for Bakalowits, ca. 1905, a piece that shows the influence of both Hoffmann and Kolo Moser. The last is a rare piece by Franz Hofstoetter in DEK 383 from 1911.
LOETZ CAMEO GLASS (pieces marked Loetz, c.a. Loetz, etc.)
Owing to the success of Emile Gallé and his contemporaries (Daum, Legras, etc.), cameo glass was in high demand. This demand reached its peak in the mid-1920s. Production of this type of glass was limited during World War I because of market conditions and the shortage of hydrofluoric acid. Once the war ended, there was a need for supply to catch up with demand, and Loetz produced a huge volume of cameo glass under its own name, as well as those of its representatives and their clients in other countries. In some cases, pieces were made with signatures determined by the end customer. In other cases, pieces were either unsigned, or marked with numbers at the clients' requests, in order to obscure the fact that the pieces being sold were in reality from Loetz. It is worth mentioning that the artistic standards of much of the cameo glass produced during this time were low - these were turnover items made to order. Some, however, could be quite good. Here are three examples of cameo glass signed "Loetz".
Other pieces were signed "c.a. Loetz", where the "c.a." may stand for "compagnie anonyme". Four examples are shown below:
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
(These pieces are signed, from left to right, Loetz, Richard and Roger)
J. JOUVE, PARIS - (RICHARD, ROGER, FICHER, VELEZ, VELES)
In June 1907, Loetz suddenly severed the relationship with permanent agent Boudon & Klaehr of Paris. After a brief (unsuccessful) relationship with another firm, Kunh Frères, permanent agency was taken over by J. Jouve, a firm trading in glass, porcelain, stoneware, and brass goods (wholesale and retail) located at 21 Rue de Paradis. This prestigious location put them in the center of a group of high-end retailers. As "représentant" for the Loetz firm, they were in a position to fill orders for themselves and other boutiques in and around Paris. Below is shown an original invoice from J. Jouve, ca. 1908:
This is probably the most common of the "made to order" signature cameos. According to the Indikateur de la Production Française (Index of French Production) published by La Confédération générale du patronat Français in 1921, the Richard glassware was made for Edmond Etling. The entry is translated here: EDMOND ETLING (Société anonyme), 158, rue du Temple, Paris. Purveyors - Manufacturers. Ivory and bronze statuettes a specialty. Animals. Purveyors of artistic glass goods "Richard".
Etling's boutique was located just down the street from J. Jouve at 29, rue de Paradis. The invoice data that correspond to the paper patterns for the Richard forms indicate that the orders were filled for J. Jouve, then (presumably) forwarded to the end customer (Etling).
In researching the Richard signatures, it became apparent that there was a hierarchy of quality in pieces marked with this name. Some of the Richard decorated glass is rather simple. On the other hand, some of the landscapes could be quite detailed, and may include attached handles, etc. Still another level of quality seems to have been reserved for rare pieces with the signature variation "Richard et cie". Pieces in this top tier show more attention to detail - ground and polished pontils, fire polished rims, marbled ground, intricate floral decorations, and several layers of color with the outer layer spreading. Here are some examples of the pieces signed "Richard":
Here are two rarer pieces, signed "Richard et cie":
This raised cameo signature is found on pieces made for an unknown client of J. Jouve. All of the shapes found so far are late Series II, but the orders presumably came from a still later period (1920s). Here are some examples:
This signature is usually inscribed into cameo pieces for an unknown J. Jouve client. All of the shapes found so far are late Series II, but the orders presumably came from a still later period (1920s):
Another series made for a J. Jouve client, the Velez pieces are usually a little better quality and sometimes feature mottled backgrounds and acid polished surfaces. The signature is found on some of the same shapes as the Richard pieces. Here are three examples:
Similar name to Velez. These pieces are similar in quality to the Richard and Roger pieces. Found on Series III shapes. For an unknown client. It is not clearly known whether these were processed through J. Jouve. Examples are shown below:
At this point, it should be mentioned that it is quite possible that other cameo signatures or marks will come up that we can attribute to Loetz based on documented decors and shapes. If that happens, they will be documented and updated here.
TRANSITION TO ART DECO
In the late 1920s, the transition to Art Deco designs was well under way, and the demand for cameo glass began to wane. There were still a few interesting acid cutback designs from this period, as we will see below.
As early as 1920, there are some paper patterns that indicate flashed crystal (crystal with a thin outer layer of rubin or dark blue glass). Here are a few examples from the 1920s, one of which has an original Loetz paper label:
Marey Beckert-Schider was the wife of former artistic director Adolph Beckert, and she designed glassware with etched and painted decoration from about 1924 to 1925. Her works were displayed at the Bemaltes Glas ("painted glass") exhibition in Prague in 1924, and at the Paris Exhibition in 1925. Her designs exude a bit of "wild energy", employing bold contrasting colors, and they show a marked transition to art deco. Here are some examples:
As early as 1914 or 1915, Leo Moser in Karlsbad developed a type of embellishment with gilt bands of acid-etched decoration under the tradename "Oroplastique". Broader development of the technique had to wait until after World War I. From about 1920, as oroplastic decoration using neoclassical themes gained in popularity, other glass producers began to make similar lines. Oertel and Carl Goldberg in Haida, and also Loetz in Klostermuehle, had their own versions of this style. One example by Loetz is this bowl in Himmelblau (sky blue) with a band of oroplastic decoration in a fruit and vine motif, shown next to a Moser piece:
Loetz also introduced two named décors based on oroplastic techniques. "Figuren", ca. 1926, is typically characterized by a lone figure within a medallion on the face of the vessel. "Etrusk", ca. 1928, typically has classically themed figures (human and animal) that surround the body of the vessel.
These are examples of "Figuren":
And here is a selection of "Etrusk" pieces:
The LUCIDUS mark is found on a series of pieces made for an unknown client of the firm "Walter Minde, Kristall und Glaswaren, Porzellan und Keramik" in Liberec, Bohemia. Minde began working with the Loetz glassworks in 1914, and he soon became one of the firm's most significant agents. Their relationship continued until at least the early 1930s. Minde ordered the glass for himself and for clients throughout Germany and Bohemia. In a letter to Loetz dated April 24, 1928, he wrote of a client's order, "The client's trademark is LUCIDUS and he would like this word on the articles. Of course this should not be conspicuous and you possibly would have to put it just above the foot. The word should not be longer than 10-12 mm."
The first example here is a lamp in citrongelb aussen dunkelblau (lemon yellow with an outer layer of dark blue). The production number is unknown, but the acid cutback decoration closely resembles the designs of Marey Beckert-Schider that were executed just a few years earlier. A covered jar in this exact shape (with a different finial) is on display in the Glasmuseum Passau. The mark on this lamp (pictured below) is done precisely the way prescribed in the Minde letter of 1928 - just above the base, measuring about 11.5 mm in length.
The second example is on production number (PN) III-3906 in himmelblau aussen dunkelbraun (sky blue with an outer layer of dark brown). This piece was offered at auction in Germany a few years ago. There is also another example shown without the lid in an ozon ground with dark brown outside (which is also indicated on the paper pattern). Both feature an old Japanese hunting scene in the cameo-type design.
After 1930, the global economic crisis (of which the Great Depression in America was a large part) and a major fire at the factory in 1930 led to frequent interruptions in the operation of the glass works. Loetz production in the 1930s went in two different directions: a revival of old techniques (papillon, silberiris, new variations of the Cytisus and Diaspora décors), and furnace techniques (internally decorated "Campanula" and "Schaumglas"). Not a lot is known about the last years of Loetz factory production, but it appears that very few acid cutback pieces were made after the production of the LUCIDUS lamps in 1928-1929.
Glasmarken Lexikon 1600-1945, by Carolus Hartmann, published by Arnoldsche
Indicateur de la Production Française (Index of French Production) published by La Confédération générale du patronat Français, 1921
Loetz Austria 1905-1918 Glass, by Waltraud Neuwirth
Lötz Böhmisches Glas 1880-1940, Band 2, Katalog der Musterschnitte, by Helmut Ricke, published by Prestel-Verlag
Loetz Bohemian Glass 1881-1940, written and edited by Jan Mergl, Ernst Ploil, and Helmut Ricke for the Neue Galerie New York, and published by Hatje Cantz
Loetz Series II Paper Patterns for Glass from 1900 to 1914, by Jitka Lnenickova
Miller's: Glass Fact File A-Z, by Ivo Haanstra
Moser 1857-1997, Jan Mergl and Lenka Pankova, published by the factory
(Photos in this article come from a variety of sources and are used here for educational purposes only.)