Charles Cottet, Hockey Player, 1981, leaded stained glass, 153 x 150 cm
The glass arts
Artists have always been seduced by the beauty of glass. Old methods, new techniques and contemporary experiments all serve artists in many different ways.
The works represented along the Vitroparcours illustrate some of the applications of glass in art:
The artist, a sports enthusiast, illustrated the momentum of an ice hockey player. Helmet, chin strap, all kinds of protection, cane and ice: it’s all there.
The surface on which the athlete appears is made up of white glass with blue veins. Pieces of glass in various shades of yellow form a horizontal band in the centre of the work. The player's body is simplified, cut from large pieces of glass.
Charles Cottet executed the project design on paper. Then the glassmaker Michel Eltschinger, whose workshop is located in Villars-sur-Glâne, translated it to glass. The glass pieces, chosen in consultation with the designer, were cut with diamonds based on the template. These pieces of glass are held together by lead rods with welded intersections. While the lead serves as a framework for the stained glass, its strong lines are also a design feature.
Many of us are familiar with religious stained glass, but we tend to forget that secular themes have also featured in the art of stained glass since the Middle Ages: scenes of daily life, mythology, history, morality tales ... Today, contemporary stained glass is integrated in all sorts of spaces, public or private.
Charles Cottet (1924-1987) was born in Bossonnens (FR, Switzerland). Trained in graphic design at the School of Arts and Crafts in Fribourg, he worked for a while in advertising, taught at the School of Applied Arts in Vevey, and devoted himself mainly to painting. His stained glass windows adorn both religious and civil buildings.
Blue Incandescence, 1988, glass slab, 250 x 145 cm
An abstract composition in shades of blue, animated by a few shards of yellow. The glass pieces have deliberately rough and coarse shapes.
Glass slabs are made from pieces of glass several centimetres thick, cut with a saw or diamond and then with a “marteline” (a small hammer pointed on one side and set with diamonds on the other, often used to work stone) on a wooden block. These parts are placed in a wooden formwork with integrated metal reinforcement, usually used for pouring concrete. The support structure here consists of a synthetic resin. In order to facilitate the handling of this impressively heavy work – 250 kilos – Michel Guével divided it into three irregular shapes.
The glass slab technique dates back to the early 20th century. It was developed by French glassmakers and mosaicists Jean Gaudin and Jules Albertini. Auguste Labouret filed two patents for it in 1933. Initially linked to contemporary reinforced concrete (“brutalist”) architecture from the 1950s to the 1970s, it was then widely used. The artist conceives the design, makes the model and selects the glass; the execution is entrusted to the cement and glass maker.
Michel Guével (*1939) comes from a family of Breton glassmakers and Bohemian glass blowers. As an apprentice in the family business, he made the drawings for his first stained glass windows at the age of 15. He perfected his training at the Académie Julian and then at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Since 1980, he has shared a studio with his wife in the Paris region. The glass slab is one of his preferred techniques, on which he focuses his experimentation and research.
The artist was inspired by the verses of the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid (born Christopher Murray Grieve, 1892-1978):
Deep in the cold night of autumn
The world as an unstable stone
Flickers in the sky,
And my crazy memories are falling apart
And a whirlwind of snow.
A whirlwind of snow that would keep me from reading
The words written in the stone
Even if the foams of glory
And the lichens of history
Hadn't covered them.
(English translation after the Scottish original)
Still Life Glass-Basket and White Roses, 2006, reverse glass painting, 35.5 x 44.5 cm
Here is a still life with a basket full of glasses, a postcard of the castle of Romont, a bottle and a vase of white roses. Another postcard under the basket depicts a biblical scene.
Yves Siffer created this work in acrylic paint under glass for the opening of the permanent exhibition of reverse glass painting at the Vitromusée Romont in October 2006. His still lifes often represent allegories of the ephemeral through everyday objects.
The artist's virtuosity is particularly evident in the representation of the delicate effects of light on the glass, as well as the translucent nuances of the bottle.
The Alsatian artist Yves Siffer (*1950) has for many years devoted himself exclusively to painting under glass. As a young man, he trained himself in drawing and painting and worked as a building technician. In 1972 he discovered painting under glass through Alsatian artist Rudi Grossman and later courses at the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg. He now teaches the technique in France and abroad.
Painting under glass is an ancient art, which experienced considerable expansion in the 19th century as a popular skill, particularly in the Alsace region. It involves painting on the back of a glass plate a motif intended to be seen from the front, when the glass is turned over. This technique requires, in addition to painting skill, a great capacity for anticipation: one must paint the details in the foreground first, and the background last.
The observer first sees the glass support; he often notices the reflection of the surrounding light. "The gaze must make its way through the glass before reaching the coloured surface and discovering, at last, what it represents" (Yves Jolidon).
Objects of glass
Goblet with blue-cobalt handle with neo-gothic decoration on a granular background, France, 1830-1840
Glass has been used in everyday life for centuries. Craftsmen of the past have always sought to produce beautiful glass objects, even if their purpose was utilitarian. Contemporary production in this field is equally diverse and dynamic. Artists and designers master and play with this special material.
The Vitromusée and Vitrocentre Romont constitute a centre for the glass arts in Switzerland.
Le Vitromusée Romont
Entirely dedicated to the glass arts, the Vitromusée preserves collections of stained glass, paintings under glass, glass objects, graphic works, as well as tools and materials related to the glass arts. Fragments of antique stained-glass windows, stained-glass arts and artistic glass collections are also included. The museum’s exhibitions showcase these collections.
The preparatory works bear witness to the artistic work that precedes the creation of a stained glass window. The Museum preserves a significant number of these sketches, models and projects. The set of tools used over the years by glass artisans and gathered at the Vitromusée is extremely rare.
Acquisitions, legacies and donations broaden the subjects dealt with by the Vitromusée: reverse glass painting, artistic glass, blown glass, etc. The Museum supports contemporary creation by acquiring recent works and organising exhibitions showing the variety of today's glassmaking world. The collections are constantly being developed and new spaces are planned. This concentration of all these facets of the glass arts in one place is exceptional.
Le Vitrocentre Romont
The Vitrocentre Romont, founded in 1988, focuses on research into the histories of stained glass and reverse glass painting, as well as the conservation and technology of the glass arts. It provides expert opinions, consultation on conservation and restoration, while also developing educational programs, providing documentation and answering inquiries concerning the glass arts. The numerous publications testify to the scope and dynamism of the Vitrocentre's research. Since 2012, the Vitrocentre has been an associate institute of the University of Fribourg.
vitrosearch.ch is the database of the Vitrocentre and the Vitromusée Romont. Collections and works considered part of the cultural heritage of glass in Switzerland are gradually made available online. vitrosearch.ch thus makes available to the public, in a virtual research space, the documentation created by these two institutions.