Loetz was the premier Bohemian art glass manufacturer during the Art Nouveau period (or Jugendstil, as it was called in German-speaking countries) from roughly 1890 to 1920. Founded in 1840 by Johann Loetz in what is now the Czech Republic, the company became known for its innovative techniques, organic forms, and bold use of color.
Before Loetz became known for its Phänomen and "oil spot" pieces, it had pioneered a surface technique called Marmoriertes, which produced a marbled red, pink, or green surface on objects such as vases and bowls. Another late-1880s precursor to its most prized works are the Octopus pieces, whose white curlicue lines on a darker, mottled surface was thought to resemble the tentacles of octopi.
By 1889, Loetz was one of the region’s leading glassmakers. That year, the company took first prize at the Paris Exhibition for its classic vase forms, some of which were hand-worked and deformed into swirling, organic-looking shapes like seashells, flowers, and tree trunks. Decorative vases, cups, and pitchers were other popular forms in the Loetz lexicon, and many of the pieces practically glowed thanks to their iridescent sheen from the firing and reduction techniques that were popular at the time. For its contributions to the field, Loetz was awarded the grand prize at the Paris World Exhibition in 1900.
One of the most beautiful and collectible Loetz series from this period is called Phänomen, whose chief characteristic is the rippled or featherlike designs on the object’s surface. Loetz artisans achieved this unique effect by wrapping hot glass threads around an equally hot molten base. The threads were then pulled on the object’s surface to make waves and other designs while the materials were still malleable.
The company patented the Phänomen technique in 1898 and used it in combination with techniques pioneered by L.C. Tiffany in the United States—in particular, Tiffany’s iridescent Favrile work. Combined, the two techniques provided plenty of inspiration for Loetz designers and artisans, including E. Prochaska, Franz Hofstötter, and Koloman Moser.
Another series from the turn-of-the-century was known as Streifen und Flecken (stripes and spots), whose cheerful shapes and colors are as friendly as a polka-dot skirt from the 1950s. Asträa pieces also had oil spots, although the base color tended toward the metallic. Works in the Diaspora series were almost all dots, whether it was a simple vase or a one shaped like a chambered nautilus.
The use of patterns is also a hallmark of antique Loetz art glass. The Spiraloptisch were a blizzard of spirals, while the more formal looking pieces in the Décor series were pai...
After 1905, when interest in the florals waned, Loetz pushed its surface treatments further than ever while relying on shapes that had been with the company for decades. For example, the roiling surfaces of the Titania pieces pre-date Abstract Expressionism by three decades, at least. At the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, the Perlglas pieces were translucent, giving more weight to the forms as sculpture rather than distracting the viewer with dazzling surfaces.
But without a doubt, the most memorable Loetz art glass from the end of the Art Nouveau era is the Tango series. Unlike the work that had preceded it, which was all about dense color combinations and tricky surface treatments, these two-toned pieces typically featured single colors on mostly unadorned surfaces, with contrasting lip wraps or handles.
Loetz’s Michael Powolny designed many of the best Tangos, whose designs had a harlequin or Pierrot feeling to them. For example, bright yellow was contrasted with navy blue, chartreuse with cobalt, black with white. Even today, one cannot look at the Tangos without cracking a smile.
The last significant period for Loetz occurred between the wars. In the first part of the 1920s, Loetz participated in the popular revival of late 19th-century cameo glass, which had been pioneered by Émile Gallé and others. Compared to the work that had come before it, these Loetz vases, bowls and jugs, with their etched, almost sentimental depictions of flowers and scenics, and were very traditional and safe.
Later in the decade and into the 1930s, the company reclaimed some of the spark of its turn-of-the-century heyday years with its so-called "New Wave Art Nouveau" pieces, but by 1939 the company was running out of money and in 1940 the factory burned to the ground. After the war, Loetz was nationalized (it was now behind the Iron Curtain), but the lights went out for good in 1947.
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