Jugendstil's love affair with shape
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Written by Alfredo Villanueva-Collado, Ph.D.

Photos © Abersio Núñez


Of the glass produced during the Czechoslovakian Jugendstil period, perhaps the most distinctive, most frequently imitated by others, and most misunderstood, is that of Pallme-König und Habel. From the 60’s to the 80’s many pieces in catalogues and art glass history books were mistakenly attributed to it (See Internationales Jugendstil Glass, item 130). On the other hand, pieces were attributed to Loetz that were later to be classified as Pallme-König (see Sembach, III: 9). This trend has been reversed, except on E-Bay, where everything is still classified as Loetz. The Passau Museum Catalogue (PMC) classifies under "unknown Bohemian" pieces which might have be considered Pallme-König (see IV.394-98, IV:410-12; IV 415-16).

Even the name of the company itself seems to have undergone revision. In Robert Truitt’s long and detailed genealogy, the name Pallmé is traced all the way back to 1680, the second name, König being added around 1778 (102). Palme means "palm-tree" which, together with "König," refers to a particular variety called "palma real"or "royal-palm" in Spanish (making a convenient visual reference for any glass house).

In 1888, Josef and Theodor Pallme-König named a new glasshouse after their mother: Elizabethhütte (103), name which is currently used by the Passau Museum in its glass catalogue to identify Pallme-König production. I asked Eddy Scheepers to illuminate this change; he corroborated Truitt’s account, adding that "Elizabethhütte" (or, as called in the catalogue, Glasfabrik Elizabeth) should be used as part of the scientific-ally-substantiated nomenclature, and "Pallme-König" as its popular translation, since both names cover the same production. In this article, I shall be using the latter.

In or around 1900, Wilhelm Habel, co-owner of the glassworks, obtained "a patent for a process to produce surface-decorated glass, a special type of decoration with glass threads encircling the vase" (Nedblake 11). After a review of Pallmé-König pieces illustrated in different European catalogues from collections and reference books, one comes to differentiate between merely threaded and "veined" glass. The first rests lightly on the vessel’s surface, usually having been applied in a concentric, regular fashion, and can easily break off. The second is applied in more of a free-form, irregular style, fused deeply into the surface and is more resistant to breakage.

Threaded glass was common to practically all Bohemian manufacturers-Loetz, Kralik, Rindskopf and Poschinger among them-, so its presence alone cannot be used to determine provenance. Other structural factors must be accounted for such as shape, the treatment of glass mass, and the way threading is applied. Just as the presence of metallic spotting does not constitute evidence of Loetz manufacture (see Rindskopf article), the presence of threading alone does not constitute evidence of Pallme-König. As to threading, the manner it is applied constitutes, more than anything, the signature of a given manufacturer.

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Loetz threaded.  Left: chiné, right: formosa. 01 Kralik threaded. 02 Kralik threaded. 03 Kralik threaded. 04

Photo 1 show examples of two Loetz threaded lines: a rare, massive 14" lavender Chiné and a 4"green Formosa. Photo 2 : a Kralik treatment of threading, previously classified as Rindskopf , on a documented Kralik shape (see Kralik article; an identical vase is at the Passau Museum, case 252). In the PMC V: 109, Jan Mergl classifies a threaded vase, in Kralik’s Silveria decoration, as Josephinhütte. Photo 3 shows the same shape in purple threaded glass.. Other threaded Kralik pieces include the small frosted 4¼ wide and 2" high white-on-white ashtray, and the green inkwell, 5 ¼ in diameter and 2" high (Photo 4). The Passau Museum collection does not include any inkwells under PK.

Pallme-König vessels stand apart, mostly because of its designs explored the inherent possibilities of glassmaking like no other Czech manufacture had done up to that point. Glass was treated as if it were clay, twisted, sheared, bent, almost ripped apart at the mouth in order to acquire the most fantastic contortions. Art Nouveau’s horror of conventional shape and its quest for organic form were carried into extravagant extremes, as recognized by Alena Adlerova in her introduction to the Corning Museum’s 1981 catalogue for Czechoslovakian glass (40). Iridescence plays a secondary role to shape, the viscous quality of glass being exploited to a maximum.

Pallme-König’s revolutionary designs are also singled out by Siegfried Wichmann: "Even clearly articulated forms by the Pallme-König glassworks may be alienated by iridescent lustre decoration, producing a tangled effect. Here the actual production process is carried to excess. The molten glass is arbitrarily cut with pliers, the neck is as if torn out, individual parts project above the indefinable vessel body. The wall in its heterogeneous instability seems to be laced in by thread glass" (51).

Wichmann emphasizes the organic quality of Pallme-König forms: "The new forms intensify into obstruse structures and levels and open the way to new possibilities in glass because of their unusual formation . . . . Here too the mushroom model is decisive, both in form and colour, for the silhouette. Glass acquires tactile qualities; a material representation of the exotic mushroom growing in the darkness replaces the representation of exotic beauty" (54, ill.84; 55, ill.86).

However, to judge by the illustrated Pallmé-König glass production, the very characteristics making it so diverse in terms of outlandish shape also limit the variety of its lines. The section on Elizabethhütte glass in the Passau Museum Catalogue, Band IV, illustrates this " homogeneity in diversity". Most of the glass illustrated shares common characteristics, no matter what the color or shape: heaviness, thickness-it’s not uncommon to find a layer of opaque glass cased in another layer of equally opaque glass, with spots and threading-- hand tooling of the mouth, distorted outlines (PMC IV:282 to 303). The contrast with the last two illustrations (PMC IV.304-05), showing more conventional vessels in the style of other manufacturers, makes one wonder about attributing all to the same company.

Wichmann also shows an inkwell from the Bavarian national Museum in Munich, attributing it to Pallme-König by Wichmann, (55, ill.87). The Passau Museum, in case 253, exhibits the very same inkwell under Kralik (see Kralik article, photo 30, for a variant). Also at the Passau Museum, case 251, there are a group of vases classified as Kralik in clear glass. Their thick white threading is suspiciously reminiscent of Pallme-König vessels (see Truitt 103:1 for another example).

Instability and indefinability of shape, plus the heavy plasticity of the material, are of Pallme-König’s signature characteristics . Vessels appear in green, red, purple, or pink cased in white and orange, covered by not so much threading as veining, fused to the surface. Some surfaces are pockmarked, as if pointing to the roughness of the glass-blowing process. Vases are both hand-blown and mold blown (cut from the top), the latter not having pontil marks. Characteristic problems involve loss of threading and "separation" at the points where handles meet the glass body or seams are fused. The thick "veining" may hide structural flaws. Once I had a large PK vase split in two, by itself, right on the shelf.

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The most common threaded PK base color encompasses several shades of green, (see Brohan 108: 284 to 201). Photo 5 shows two light green vessels with maroon/ purplish veining; the smaller one is featured in the Passau Museum collection, case 248. Photo 6: an 11.5" decanter showing PK’s manipulation of the glass mass at its most bizarre; it serves no functional purpose except being a purely decorative object.

Recently there was on E-Bay a vase advertised as "Loetz cardiac shape vase."  It was however, a 8" PK in the characteristic green with maroon veining. The "cardiac shape" referred to its having three openings at the top which, together with its bulging oval shape made it look indeed like a heart (Photo 7, 8"). I was quite shocked when I found it in the PMC IV:410 under "Anonymous production", in orange/clear with blue wavy decoration, a type of glass routinely sold as Loetz. PMC IV.411 shows another vase from the same line, but in gold with blue lines. Photo 8 is a 13" variant in emerald green with thick maroon veining. Because they are identical in shape, those in the PMC can then be classified as a previously unidentified PK.

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