Last April, I was invited by Thea Goldring and the Ertegun House at Oxford University for a conference on "Art and Science of Nineteenth-Century Stained Glass". I had the pleasure and honour to chair the session on "French Stained Glass Ateliers and Their techniques". Here are my conference's highlights:
The first presentation focused on 19th century stained glass French historiography and was given by Mr Jean-François Luneau (Université Clermont-Ferrand), a 19th century French stained glass specialist (and my PhD supervisor). His talk emphasised the evolution of studies concerning stained glass of the 19th century, from no study to a pick in the 1980s as well the lack of general studies of the subject, to the absence of study on civil and domestic stained glass. In fact, 19th century stained glass bibliography is dominated by case studies, from small local publications to work done by l'Inventaire (public-founded organisation which inventories every aspects of French heritage, from architecture to decorative arts). The pick of the 1980s made me think about the relationship between the rediscovery of the Gothic Revival or néo-gothique in France, and the effect on the perception of 19th century artworks. The exhibition Le "Gothique" retrouvé in 1979 has had a strong impact of the perception of 19th century art and is an important benchmark in the study of 19th century art. However, the real discovery for me was the distinction between "vitrail tableau" and "vitrail mosaïque". The last one is often labelled as "archeologic" and follow Middle Ages techniques, whereas the vitrail tableau as defined by Jean Taralon (1958) is closer to a painting and required modern techniques.
On the second day, Amélie Duntze (Université Clermont-Ferrand) presented her work on Eugène Oudinot de la Favrerie (1827-1889), a stained glass artist who trained as a chemist and patented new techniques in France and in the US. The links between art and science in Oudinot's artistic life were highlighted by the study of his patents from the 1880s. These patents focused on different techniques such as the replacement of tiles in furniture by glass panels, which was also developed in the US by Louis Tiffany, as well as a technique of gilding stained glass. This gilding was an ingenious invention, creating a double effect; during the day you could see the coloured glass panels and at night (with artificial lights) the panels were like gold and would sparkle. This technique was used in a private house in New York, as well as at the château d'Eux (a castle "restored" by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc).
Another presentation was given by Tom Küpper, glass keeper at the Lincoln cathedral and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln, on 19th century amateur stained glass. This talk emphasised the role of amateur artist in the 19th century, especially women's role. Their works were mainly commissioned by local churches, and most of them had done one stained glass panel. However, some amateurs started to develop a relationship with their stained glass atelier, and would submit several design to the atelier. Most amateurs would only design the cartoons and not actually make the stained glass themselves, which was advised by DIY books and the School of Design.
This conference was extremely interesting in developing the complex relationship between science and art in the 19th century. It was mentioned by Thea Goldring in her talk on how stained glass artists slowly differentiate themselves from chemists. Some stained glass panels still have the mention of the chemist who created the pigments (the work of Chevreuil on colours should be mentioned), as an ode to the alliance between art and science but slowly science started to be perceived as contrary to art. The conference also talked about the perception of 19th century art, and the need of more studies in this field to understand this art for its own sake and not just as imitative.