Updated: May 5
The Daum Frères, also known as the Daum Brothers Auguste Daum (1853-1909) and Antonin Daum (1864-1930), were incredibly talented glass artists who grew to become one of the major forces in the Art Nouveau movement.
The Daum Verrier de Nancy factory was set up by Auguste and his father Jean Daum in the early 1880’s. It initially specialised in pocket watch crystals and household glassware.
Antonin later joined the company and it wasn’t until the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair that the firm introduced the “Daum Nancy” Art Nouveau enamelled and etched vases they became known for. Daum Frères won a “Grand Prix” medal during the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 which allowed them to move out of the shadow of fellow Nancy glassmaker, Emile Galle. When Galle died in 1904, Daum Frères began to take over the glass industry.
However, their dominance over the sector only lasted a decade, as at the start of World War I the factory was shut down and turned into a hospital. It reopened in 1918 with Antonin Daum in charge, but the craftsmanship and innovation of the past twenty years were not present. The golden age for Daum Nancy was between 1895 and 1914. This period saw Daum register patents and experiment successfully with construction and decoration techniques that made their work the truly unique and highly desirable art it is today.
Cameo glass was a traditional technique elevated to the level of fine art by Emile Gallé, who opened his own glass factory in Nancy in 1894.
The technique involves the outside layer of glass being etched or carved away to reveal the layer below, resulting in a silhouette or ‘cameo’. This was usually of a flower, dragonfly, or tree as it was common for artists to take their inspiration from nature during the Art Nouveau period. At the turn of the 20th century, Gallé was considered the king of cameo glass, yet Daum Frères were also highly regarded.
Expanding on the Cameo Technique
The Daum Frères pushed the cameo technique to its limits and produced astounding work to win awards at international art fairs. They used acid in a variety of ways, one being to etch the pieces, another to selectively alter some of the underlying colours, as well as to frost surfaces or make them shiny. They often combined this acid etching with carving, enamelling and engraving on a single piece of glass to produce creative glass masterpieces.
All Daum Frères glass employed a unique technique whereby a clear glass vessel was blown with colour, but only on the inner surface or layer. An acid resist landscape was then painted free-hand onto the vessel, which was etched by plunging it into a hydrofluoric acid bath. The outer surface was then polished to give the subjects a ‘third dimension’ as the onlooker sees through the clear glass to the inner colour. The background was often frosted which tricks the viewer into thinking they are seeing the coloured glass.
The artist then adds three types of enamel to complete the design: transparent enamel to add the three-dimensional trees, opaque enamel for the snow or ground, and polychrome enamel for the finer details in the distance. A final blast of heat allows the enamels to anneal with the glass.
Examples such as “Deep Winter” received an additional more complicated procedure where a layer of cameo glass was applied before the design was painted in an acid resist, giving a much denser effect to snow or summer fields.
Identifying Daum Frères Glass
As well as picking out the techniques and features mentioned above, collectors can look for the signature as works are normally signed Daum Nancy and often include the Cross of Lorraine. All Daum glass is handmade, and at the company’s height of production 400 workers were at the factory in Nancy, France. The many landscape vases of Daum were always examples of excellence and the skill of several different craftsmen.