The name Lalique is now synonymous with ornamental glass but he began his career as a maker of elaborate jewellery for leading socialites, including Sarah Bernhardt.
René Lalique was born in France in 1860. He grew up on the outskirts of Paris, and in 1876 was employed as an apprentice to the goldsmith and jeweller, Louis Aucoc. It was not until 1885, after a two year stay in London, and then freelance work in Paris with such leading jewellers as Boucheron and Cartier that Lalique became confident and competent enough to open his own workshop in Place Gaillon. During the next two decades, René Lalique concentrated on developing elaborate jewellery using such material as horn, ivory, precious metal and enamels. In his settings he avoided using the large, showy rubies and diamonds that were popular at the time.
In an attempt to expand the boundaries of jewellery design, Lalique began to experiment with glass. He produced his first all-glass object in the early 1890s, and, after that, glass came to dominate his output.
Lalique opened his first retail premises in 1905 at 24 Place Vendome situated next door to Francois Coty, the newly-established perfume manufacturer. This close proximity was to lead to a business association between both entrepreneurs when, in 1907, Coty commissioned Lalique to design labels and, subsequently, bottles for his perfumes. From the production of scent bottles, Lalique went on to design vases, car mascots, table ornaments, lamps, photograph frames and a host of other decorative objects.
The glass used by Lalique consisted of a potash glass body with a lead oxide content of about 12% - half the lead content needed for glass to be labelled 'crystal' under French law.
The glass Lalique produced from the early 1920s until 1945 was termed 'demi-crystal: 'Demi-crystal' was well suited to the press moulding technique used by Lalique in the pieces at Carrick Hill; the molten glass being pressed evenly into a steel mould by a plunger.
Although the same mould would be used again and again, small differences in the processes and colours ensured that the definition and colour of each piece was able to be infinitely varied. In this way, Lalique's huge output of moulded pieces between 1920 and 1930 was mass-produced from 200 designs, and each piece was subtly different. Glass pieces cast in the alternative 'lost wax' method were only produced on commission for wealthy clients, resulting in unique works which are now very rare.
During the early period, Lalique derived his stylistic influences from nature and from antiquity, reproducing plants, insects and reptiles and mythological and classical subjects. Art Nouveau, the major international style during Lalique's early days, also influenced his work.
The ever-brilliant fantasy in Lalique led him to use an immense variety of motifs such as the serpentine grace of arabesques, the inward look of certain feminine faces, the sense of the infinite in others, and an appreciation of the eccentric.
Variations of the signature 'R. Lalique, France' were used before his death and applied in a number of ways; moulded, acid-stamped, wheel¬-engraved or facsimile-engraved. The signatures on the Carrick Hill pieces are either engraved or stamped.