Legras glass and its legacy
Legras glass is one of the great names of French antique glass. We’re pleased to offer some gorgeous examples in our shop, and we regularly add more.
A good deal is known about this formidable glassmaker, but that still leaves room for plenty of myths and misunderstandings! Here’s a primer.
A genius for glass and business
The founder of Legras glass, François-Théodore Legras (1839-1916) had little schooling and spent his teenage years as a woodchopper in the forests of his native Vosges.
His chance came when he was apprenticed to the Clairey glassworks at the late age of 20. Once trained, he headed for Paris and found work at the Plaine Saint-Denis glass factory in the north of the city. Within 3 years, he had risen to director.
In 1883, François-Théodore undertook a massive expansion of the factory in Saint-Denis, in partnership with the famous Paris patron, Sir Richard Wallace. Around that time, he also bought a much older factory in Pantin, north-east of Paris. By the end of the century, he was running a vast industrial complex with a workforce of nearly 1,300 people. Legras & Cie was a name to be reckoned with.
F.T. Legras seems to have been determined his successors would benefit from the opportunities he’d lacked.He apprenticed his 14-year-old nephew, Charles (1859-1922) and encouraged him to develop his flair for glass chemistry. It paid off: thanks to Charles, Legras won the gold medal at the Paris World Fair, and the grand prix in 1889. Left: a marbled opaline vase enamelled in gold, c1900
A second nephew, Théodore also joined the company, training in chemistry before taking over the production management. We know that Théodore designed pieces for Paris’ Exposition des Arts Déco in 1925, but Charles seems to have been more influential in terms of research and design.
Glass for all occasions
One of the surprising things about Legras is the sheer diversity of its output.
At one end of the spectrum, Legras supplied pharmacies and distillers with industrial flasks and ‘fantasy’ liquor bottles including some of those pictured left.
At the other end was the art glass, including cameo glass and enamelled glass.High-tech and labour intensive, some pieces required up to five firings.
Note that some enamelled pieces are signed Leg. The enamelling is of a lesser quality to many unsigned Legras pieces and that’s usually reflected in the price. They’re likely to be from 1914-18, when many skilled workers were sent to the Front.
Left: a pair of Legras Lamartine vases with enamelled decoration.
Right: A marbled glass vase with enamelled decor from the ‘Printania’ series.
Legras used the ‘Montjoye’ signature for prestigious pieces featuring acid-etching, coloured and gold enamel.
Some pieces are pictured in Legras catalogues but unsigned.
Far right, The mistletoe on this Montjoye vase was a favourite motif in Art Nouveau design.
Left, three layers of glass were used to create this engraved forest vase, signed in cameo. Legras also made table lamps using the same techniques and decor.
Right, a cameo vase from the ‘Rubis’ series, signed in cameo.
Near left, A stunning pair of Art Deco wheel-engraved globe vases.
Far left, Art Deco vase in ”antique’ glass with wheel-engraved decor.