A practical guide to Galle furniture


Emile Galle is worldwide known for his glass. Not immediately for his furniture. In this article Mrs Tiny Esveld wants to show the differences between the three type of furniture made by Galle.  All these examples were or are for sale in the gallery Tiny Esveld, In Rijkevorsel in Belgium.

Emile Galle was born in Nancy in France on may 4th in the year 1846. His father and mother own at that moment a famous shop in Nancy in crystal and porcelain. They deliver to the emperor, which is a great honour, Napoleon III.  His father Charles Galle ordered the crystal by Burgun and Schverer in Meisenthal and the porcelain by different firms throughout France. On their own premises they finished the decoration on the objects , by cutting the crystal or painting the procelain. the firm employed about 20 workmen in 1873.

So Emile Galle was born into a rich business family. He got the opportunity to travel and study as he liked. He fell in love with nature  and had his own botanical collection. In the botanical garden in Nancy, which is still there, he studied the life of plants in all seasons. the garden of the family home he filled with rare species of all kinds of plants. In his woodwork as well as in his glass, he combined his scientifique knowlegde with his artistic spirit.
In 1867 Charles Galle made his son Emile Galle artistic Director and this is the beginning of the world famous production of Galle objects.


First period, influenced by other styles

A mix of styles, renaissance, louis xv, rococo and others, a historic mixture with the first small art nouveau characteristics. 1885-1895

In 1885 Emile Galle started to work with wood. like his glass he drew the outline himself, decided what kind of wood will be used, controlled the work, examined the first try-out and under his direction the workers made the piece.  The first production of furniture were small pieces. Little tables and pedestals just to put one vase on. As Emile Galle explained himself ,he was dissatisfied with the presentation of his vases at numeral exhibitions and that is why he decided to start making  his own furniture, so that his glass would be presented at its advantage. Glass and woodwork in harmony.
Furniture from this period has very little sculpture. The marqueterie is sometimes coloured to get more effect. Later this is abandoned.  A little red , a little green to highlight the flower or the leaf.  The signature in this period is branded or engraved with the full name: Emile Galle Nancy. The kinds of wood he uses are domestic kinds, oak, nut and fruitwood.  The picture on the tables can be historic, like Jeanne D’arc ,or themes on Lorraine, the rooster or the thistle, national flower of the province Lorraine. Or just ordinary flowers and birds from the region. Sometimes In this period you find little pieces of text included  in the marqueterie. On the vases this has a name: “verrerie parlante”. “Talking glass”. Wtih woodwork we do not have this expression.
Most of the work is signed, except bedchambers and chairs.



The second period. Splendid Art nouveau . 1895-1904

Fluid lines and oriental inspiration.

Around 1900 there are 300! men and women at work. It is the most creative period. Elaborate marqueterie with often more then 25 different sorts of wood. Wood of exotic nature, such as riopalisander, bubinga, sequoia, mahagoni and even the use of mother  of pearl in the famous bed Aube et Crepuscule in 1904.
In this period  the furniture has elaborated sculpture elements.
the form is often asymmetric, because nothing in nature is symmetric. Cabinets have as well open and closed parts. legs have sculpted flowerbuds or are even sculpted as animal forms, maybe like a frog’s leg,  with the most famous example the dragonfly table. the legs of this table are in the shape of an enormous dragonfly.
The furniture has lost its purpose to serve as an exhibition  stand
for a vase. Now the furniture is the purpose itself and a piece of art in its own. This furniture is artistic and expensive. Emile Galle regretted this, because he wanted to make art for everybody.
So he decided to make affordable little tables , small sidetables and tables gigonges in series to reduce the cost price and make it affordable for more people. Of course these tables are handmade as well, so they are never identical.
In this period you find the most famous pieces, like the kingfisher cabinet, dragonfly tables, lady desks with frogs and butterflies, buffets and musiccabinets and the ultimate piece ofcourse is the bed aube et crepuscule. Most furniture that you find on the market is from this period.
On the 23rd of september 1904 Emile Galle died. He leaves behind a wife and 4 daughters. They continued the work he begun. For a period of time they executed the same designs. then the fashion changes and art nouveau is finished.



The third period. Art deco. 1904-1931

The great inspirer has died and  in 1914 his wife died and this leaves the firm in hands of his four daughters. Until 1914 they continued to use the earlier designs together with new art deco designs. Therefor it is difficult to say whether some objects made in the art nouveau style are made before or after 1904. This applies as well for the vases. The factory continued the work with other designers. Some of them are great artists, like Paul Nicolas, Auguste Herbst, louis hestaux,  Emile Lang and victor prouve and emile levy.
In this period they produce  blown- out vases.  Vases which are blown into a mould. Famous examples are the rododhendron and the elephant vase. In the same period you get very nice art deco design tables, like the polar bear table and the lotus table with Egyptian influence. the tables have straight legs and no fluid lines. The signature on the lotus table is in a cartouche, which is taken from the egyptian symbolism. Some of the tables and cabinets in this period have geometric designs. These art deco tables are very rare. Just a few are known and not many have been published in books. Many research still has to be done.
the marqueterie of these tables are extraoridanary craftmansship. the wood is special chosen on grain and colour.

When you want to buy a Galle furniture, you have to ask yourself a few questions. How is the condition of the object? Has it been restored? Are there new parts? Is the object complete or is a part missing? Has it the original mounts? Are the feet original? Furniture restoration is accepted, but only a certain percentage.  When the top of a table or cabinet has some watermarks made by a glass or a vase or a plant, this can be polished and no harm is done to the original concept. So polishing and waxing is accepted. Varnish in general is not accepted. When a table is not stable anymore , it is perfectly allright to stabalize it. Most Galle furniture has been very well kept. they were real treasures when they were bought, so people cared well for the object. When a top is missing from a ladies desk, do not buy. the desk is not complete and not original anymore.
last but not least, we have to talk about fakes. there are many fakes on the market. When you google you can find sites with fake dragonfly tables and other small tables. Do not think that you hit the jackpot when you see a dragonfly table for sale in a small auction house. It is not you that wins the jackpot, but the seller.  Always look for the refinement of the marqueterie and the different type of woods. When there is no refinement , it is not made  by Galle. When you have a doubt, do not buy.
A Real Galle furniture is breathtaking, because it is so beautiful.  When you do not  have that feeling, be sure it is a fake.


You can also visit mrs Esveld’s website www.tinyesveld.com to see the present collection for sale at the moment or the site about glass by Emile Galle www.emilegalleglass.com or take a look at the new book Mrs Esveld just wrote about the art made by Gallé and his family. This hardcover book takes you in 300 pages back to the era and the city in which Gallé lived and worked and has more than 600 images, of which many were never published before. Order the book.

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