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  Let Us Talk Emile Gallé
─By Loretta Hui-shan Yang

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Emile Gallé’s life became erratic in the last ten years of his life.  He often locked himself in his house not once leaving, speaking or sleeping.  His work was likewise affected.  The color black was used prominently and malformed images began to appear. 

Sitting in the Shinagawa Prince coffee shop in Japan, there was a chain-smoking man with a flattop.  With labored English he said, “You know he is a ghost, ghost of glass art”.

Who knew ghosts exist in the Liuli art realm?

Stepping inside his office, greeted by an immense stack of Japanese paintings and a Kitamura Seibo’s sculpture; the sculpture represents his level of status and taste.  He opened a drawer and fumbled around searching for something that was eventually found between the whisky and the white tung box.  A paper pouch was revealed. Inside the pouch, a vase which is less than 20 centimeters covered in trees and colors.

This Japanese gentleman passionately informed me that there was no other one likes it in the world any more.  “One million and six hundred thousand yen.  By cash.”

“You know, it’s Gallé”, he said.  But, who could afford it?

The Ghost of Glass Art – France’s Gallé

The Japanese are fascinated by Gallé’s works, and it seems that he is a household man and very popular.  Several art museums display his modern works.  The Kitazawa gallery for example, could not keep up with their collection so they opened two more galleries to accommodate the work. When you buy a ticket to visit, you must be caught off guard by the immense enveloping darkness. 

Amidst the darkness are spotlights of sparkling colorful Liuli.  Besides, the Japanese also describe such a person as “spirit” or “apparition”.  Gallé was clearly the spirit of Liuli.

Emile Gallé was born in 1846 in Nançay, France.  His parents worked in a mirror production factory. His father spent all day working on producing the potteries and liuli and Gallé followed suit. 

Nançay was considered as an important craft down in France.  High cultural standards gave it the upper hand that other provinces could not match.  Today it is a popular tourist destination. 

Gallé’s reputation and legend exploded onto the European scene following the 1879 International Exhibition in Paris.  Yet before his success, his experience prior to the exhibition truly affected himself a lot.

1. Family background
His father worked in glass and ceramics.  In order to promote his work, he drew images of plant on the mirror to add its value.

2.sentiment for the literature
Nançay, the cultural and philosophical famous down, thrives and encouraged Gallé a lot.

3.his favor to plant
Gallé was deeply enthralled with all flora and fauna.  In the lackadaisical environment, he immersed himself in nature and found poetry in every leaf he turned over.

Look at a retrospective of Gallé’s work and one cannot help but notice the overwhelming theme of nature.  It is this theme and style that propelled him to the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement.

During Industrial Revolution, Europe was saturated with mass produced products.  The ideas of the art at that time belonged to William Morris, who turned the tides back again and mixed aesthetics with social commentary.  Movements came in waves through Art Nouveau and Art New Wave and after fifteen years, Gallé’s works were remained while the others became history.

One by one, Gallé’s works roamed all over the world and each price is from 100,000 to a couple million New Taiwan Dollars.  It is said that a rose vase was bid by Kitazawa gallery in Japan for NT$10,000,000 (around US$300,000).

In twenty short years, Japan became the country with the largest Gallé collection in the world.  Is it because Gallé was once inspired by the Japanese painter Takashima Hokkai? Or is it because Japanese have higher consumption capacity to buy them? It is said that 60% of Gallé work belong to the Japanese - is this the truth or a boast?

Yet walking into the Kitazawa Gallery, my mind cannot help but be upset.
“Intense beauty” is the only word to describe the feeling.

Huge Black Color, The Strength of Distortion

Emile Gallé’s life became erratic in the last ten years of his life.  He often locked himself in his house not once leaving, speaking or sleeping.

Especially, when his best supporter, Queen Wallace was dead, he was so sad that he just shut the plant without sleeping or eating at home for 3 days.

His later works were likewise affected.  The color black was used prominently and malformed images began to appear. 

Looking at his work from a delicacy level, the brightness and luxurious qualities of his later work were completely disappeared.  What his works left were huge black color and the strength of distortion.

Was this his outlook on his rest years?

A three-day self-imprisonment reminds me to think of William Foucault, another erratic person.  An art morphing into darkness reminds me to think of Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Kawabata Yasunari.

Is this Gallé’s literary spirit?

Many people imitate Gallé, especially when it comes to his lights and his use of flowers and birds.  Who else thinks of his feeling?  Imitation pieces are commonly seen in Japan with an engraving of the imitator’s signature.  My heart often stops for a second – even those imitations carry a piece of his spirit.

He spend his entire life in this profession immerse himself in a self-made world and learnt it very hard.  His innovations, styles and techniques have become a valuable asset to us. Yet he remains himself in a dark world.

One of his orchid vases made it onto the cover of a book.  A man, born after fifty years after the creation of the vase, took one look at its beauty and regarded Gallé as a hero.  He gave up career and fortune to pursue the life of Liuli and never looked back.  His hope was to create an object as breathtaking and bewitching as that vase in his rest of life.  To this day, he labors on with the workshop he created – Liuligongfang.

Ten years has gone by.  Flipping through a book on Gallé at the Katazawa Gallery, these words caught my eye, “When Gallé was young, he was incredibly moved and fascinated by the Chinese Qien Long era Liuli when he visited at the Victoria and Albert Museum”.  I wondered why Chinese never talked about Emile Gallé. 

It’s time to have someone to talk about his literary spirit, and the price?
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