The pâte de verre and artistic glass objects of Georges Despret (1862-1952)

a little intro

This is a post on my thesis subject, Georges Despret,  who was a Belgian-French industrial who developed the pâte de verre technique around 1900. He’s the subject of my Master’s thesis at UGent, and of the technical and practical research I’m doing at Sint Lucas(now Luca School of Arts) Gent. And I’m happy to share it with you!

reconstruction of a working process

At Luca I’m piecing together how Despret might have made one of his pâte de verre bowls, by making one from scratch. I’ve been working in the glass and ceramics studios, so this is a hands-on type of research, figuring out how each step of his work process might have looked like. It’s partly based on historical sources and contemporary research into historical pâte de verre, and partly on the process of making itself.

Georges Despret - bowl 1906 - Design Museum Ghent
Georges Despret – bowl from 1906 – Design Museum Ghent

Of course it’s impossible to replicate the exact circumstances in which Despret worked – this wasn’t my intention, but I reasoned that making one of his bowls could be a helpful complimentary method since there are very little historical sources left. His archives and many of his artworks were lost during the first year of World War I, when his manufacture in Jeumont (north of France) was reduced to ruins in an explosion. There he had built a museum that showed everything his manufacture was capable of, with an emphasis on the artistic glass objects. But all of that has been destroyed.

So I’ve based my practical research on what remains: his glass objects kept in museums all over the world, his collaborators like sculptor Yvonne Serruys (on whom my promotor Prof. Dr. M. Sterckx is a specialist) and ceramics collector Géo Nicolet; a few archival documents, some contemporary press, and recent research. Next to that I’ve looked at the discoveries and techniques of other pâte de verre artists, like Henry Cros (the pioneer to whom Despret looked up), Decorchemont, Argy-Rousseau and Walter.

The little (and big) parts I couldn’t find an answer to anyhow, I’ve tried to find through experimentation, So there’s a degree of hypothesis in my research I’m well aware of, but that doesn’t make this project any less worthwhile. I’ve received fantastic help from my teachers at Luca, my promotor at the UGent, the city of Jeumont and the curators of the Design Museum Gent and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris. And all the fantastic librarians!

This research project will become a chapter in my Master’s thesis (it’s due in August, so I’m still working on it), but I also wanted to give a more personal account of it,  showing you what I’ve been up to in the past 7 months. A bit like my studio and work in progress pictures. Thanks for reading!

Edited to add: here is an account of my technical research (pdf, in Dutch).

a few links:

Despret on Wikipedia (in French)
Despret in the collections of the Corning Museum of Glass
Mémoire vivante de Jeumont with photos of Despret’s castle in ruins after WW I, close to his manufactures

further reading:

Cummings, Keith. Contemprary kiln-formed glass. Londen: A & C Black Publishers ltd, 2009. -with a chapter on Stewart’s research on Amalric Walter.
Daum, Noël. La pâte de verre, Paris: Denoël, 1984 -extensive book on pdv, but needs critical reading.
Delaborde, Yves & Bloch-Dermant, Janine. Le verre: Art & Design XIX°-XXI° siècles. Courbevois: ACR Edition, 2011.
Hamaide, Frédéric (red.). De glace et de verre: Deux siècles de verre plat franco-belge (1820-2020), Fourmies: Ecomusée de l’Avesnois, 2007. -with a chapter on Despret’s artistic glass by A.-L. Carré.
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