Émile Gallé, Hydrangea vase

Author Émile Gallé
Title Hydrangea vase
School France
Date 20th century
Material Glass
Conservator(s) Julia Ustinova
Workshop Objects Conservation

Hydrangea is one of the exquisite works of the outstanding French painter Émile Gallé (1846-1904), who worked in the Art Nouveau style. Now it graces the permanent exposition of the Gallery Of 19th And 20th Century European And American Art.

The vase was created in the early 20th century in the workshop of Émile Gallé. Today it is the embodiment of the original "Gallé style", seamlessly combining flowing forms and organic motifs. Dark green hydrangea blossoms seem to stand out through the warm frosted surface of the glass. These subtle transitions in colour were made possible by the innovative technique of chemically treating multi-layered coloured glass. This technique, invented by Émile Gallé, consisted of etching one or two top layers of glass with acid. With the help of a brush and a solution of acids, the artist removed one layer of colored glass after another and thus created a masterpiece. 

The vase entered the museum in one piece, undamaged, but still required the expert hands of a conservator. It was covered with soot on the inside and outside. It was stained especially badly where the glass was etched. The experts from the ceramic, glass and porcelain conservation workshop cleaned it thoroughly. There were difficulties in the process, as the surface of the glass was 'scarred' by acids, making it vulnerable and limiting the conservators' use of materials and cleaning methods. Only in 2019, thanks to the productive cooperation between the museum's conservators and specialists from the Kurchatov Institute, the vase was restored to its original appearance. In the course of complex research, the nature of the contaminants was identified and special cleaning compositions were picked. 

You can find out more about the conservation process from the video interview with Julia Ustinova.

5 questions to an art conservator. Hydrangea vase by Émile Gallé