The Pâte de Verre of G. Argy-Rousseau

by Mike Fredericks, Department Head

The Garden of Hesperides Vase

One of the more recognizable and influential pâte de verre artists of the Art Nouveau period is G. Argy-Rousseau. Born in France in 1885 to a family of simple farmers, Joseph-Gabriel Rousseau would evolve into an inquisitive engineer, inventor and artist, applying for numerous patents and earning his rightful place among the most respected creative minds of the time.

Educated at the École Breguet and later at the École Sèvres, Rousseau made acquaintance with fellow student Jean Cros, son of the now well-known pâte de verre artist Henri Cros. Visits to the Cros studios is where he began his appreciation of the process and form. Graduating in 1906, he worked for the next several years researching dental porcelain, eventually becoming director of a ceramics research laboratory. In 1913, he married Marianne Argyriades. Marianne would play a pivotal role in Rousseau’s future of design, as his appreciation of her Greek heritage and cultured upbringing encouraged his own creative inspiration. His gratitude for her influence is evident by his adding the “Argy” of her surname to his signature.

By 1914, Rousseau was already being recognized amongst the finer makers of the period with Daum, Lalique and Marinot. While heavily influenced by nature and its flora and fauna themes, his style was uniquely his own, with bright colors in muted tones of the pâte de verre providing a canvas for his creativity. He also used the Greek and classical influence for many of his designs, and eventually evolved into several stylized bolder concepts towards the later 1920s, in keeping with the changing of tastes from Art Nouveau to Art Deco. By the late 1920s, his design and production were at the pinnacle of his commercial success.

Like many of the decorative artists of the time, the global economic difficulties of 1929 took its toll on Rousseau and the business, eventually leading to its liquidation in 1931. He would continue on as an independent artist working with pâte de verre, pâte de cristal and enamels, but without the level of notoriety he once enjoyed. Suffering from a heart condition in later years, Gabriel Argy-Rousseau passed away in Paris in 1953.

Today, there is a passionate collecting fraternity and deep affection for his works. Whether diminutive bowls, larger vases or examples of his lighting designs, Rousseau examples can range from $1,000 to $50,000 and are truly special additions to a well-curated glass collection.