Auguste-Jean-Francois Legras, an experienced glass-maker, took over the Verreries et Cristalleries de Saint-Denis et des Quatre-Chemins in 1864. Under his direction the glassworks prospered, producing an enormous range of table and fancy glass. New shapes and colours for decorative vases were constantly developed, though none were of startling artistic merit. The firm was a commerical undertaking, and as such was eminently successful.
Legras exhibited his wares with great success at a number of international exhibitions. The firm exhibited in 1888 at the Barcelona International Exhibition, where they were awarded a Gold Medal. The same year Legras became a Knight of the French Legion of Honour. A year later, at the 1889 Paris International Exhibition, the firm was awarded a Grand Prix.
Coloured glass, marbled glass, gold flecked glass, mottled and streaked glass, enamelled and gilt glass, alternated with clear crystal vessels and curious bottles shaped as individuals, buildings or boats. In 1894 Legras took out a patent for the application of coloured glass flowers or other decorative motifs onto blown glass vessels. In 1897 Legras took over the Vidie glass works in the neighbouring suburb of Pantin. He was then employing some 1400 glassworkers, including 150 decorators At the Paris Universal Exhibition of 1900 Legras was again awarded a Grand Prix.
Auguste Legras was himself a great admirer of Galle though he did not consider Galle glass to be commercial. In about 1900 Legras began the production of Art Nouveau glass under the direction of Francois-Theodore Legras, who was now managing the glassworks at Saint-Denis and Pantin. The most interesting of these is a range of cameo and enamel vases and bowls simulating the look of carved cornelian. Made of several layers of opaque, beige-pink glass, the outermost layer is cameo-cut using hydrofluoric acid into a floral (chrysanthemums, irises etc.) or fruit (holly, berries, cherries, strawberries) orsea weed pattern. A second acid bath cuts the linear veins in the leaves and completes the design. The vast expanse of beige-pink background is roughly cut in places to further simulate the look of carved hardstone. Finally the leaves are enamelled green, the flowers, fruit or seaweed enamelled (frequently red or brown) and fired. The resulting vase has a striking look quite different from the production of other glassmakers. These vases are normally signed ‘Legras SD’ (i.e. Saint Denis) in cameo script, though the reverse signature ‘Sargel SD’ is sometimes found. They are found in various sizes and shapes, including some delightful miniatures.
A second range of Legras vessels was made in straight forward two or three layer cameo glass, acid-etched in floral or landscape designs, frequently using a green background. The background glass in these is sometimes given a rough, granular finish with acid. They are sometimes found in very large sizes, and are signed ‘Legras’ in cameo script.
A less elaborate range of vases, varying in shapes and sizes, but also made in very large sizes, consisted of a pattern of red plane-tree leaves, or fig leaves rising up the stem from the base, executed in very shallow cameo reliefusing two acid baths, one to shape it and the other to delineate the leaf veins. These vases were not made using two-layered glass, but by using the technique pioneered by Daum in which the parison picked up powdered glass on its surface from the marver. When reheated, the newly adhering particles would vitrify, thus creating the patches of additional surface which could then be used to produce the cameo design. These, too, are signed ‘Legras’ in cameo script on the side o f the vessel.
In 1908 Legras exhibited in London at the Franco-British Exhibition. This was in many ways the ending of an era for them. For some two years they had been executing perfume bottles in moulded glass designed by Rene Lalique for Coty and other perfume manufacturers. Now Lalique was opening his own glassworks. In 1909 Auguste Legras retired, and was succeeded by his son Charles.
The range of glass decoration roughly within the Art Nouveau style was expanded by the addition of several new lines. One set of vases and bowls had an outer surface of acid-granulated green, yellowish or brown glass, cameo-cut with stylised berries, mistletoe or other plant, in formal patterns, heavily gilt. The inside surface of these vessels is frequently red. They are signed on the base with a large capital letter ‘L’ pierced in the centre by ‘Cie’ and the words ‘St. Denis —Paris’ in a convex line below this, in gilt letters. Age and wear have frequently rubbed part or all of this mark away. A considerably more interesting variation of this design has the outer surface cameo-etched in poppy designs in such a way as to remove the outer coloured glass casing from the flowers, revealing the transparent glass body through which the red inner surface is visible. This gives a fine illusion of depth within the apparently red poppy petals. These vessels have the same signature as those above with the addition of the Trade Mark ‘Indiana’, in a convex line above the 'L'. They frequently have a formal border around the rim, cameo shaped and gilt.
Another range of cameo glass, frequently using a transparent body with frosted surface, or pale pastel colours in floral designs with considerable gilding and formal edges, as well as some enamelling, was marketed under the Trade Name ‘Mont Joye’. The gilt mark on the base represents the head and shoulders of a mitred bishop with an inverted horse-shoe shape above him containing the words ‘Mont’ on the left and ‘Joye’ on the right, with ‘L & Cie’ below the figure. Here again part or all of the mark has frequently been obliterated. They were manufactured at the Pantin works.
A cheaper range of vessels was produced in which simple shapes of clear glass are enamel painted over their entire surface with frequently very colourful floral patterns. They are signed ‘Leg’ in paint on the side of the vessel.
Legras exhibited in 1910 at the La Verreric et la Cristallerie Artistique (Artistic Glass And Crystal Ware) Exhibition in Paris, and in 1911 at the Turin International Exhibition. The glassworks closed down in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. They reopened in 1919 as the Verreries et Cristallerie de St. Denis et de Pantin Reunis (United Glass and Crystal Works of St. Denis and Pantin). The postwar production was largely slanted towards table glass, and some pseudo-cameo work was produced with floral and landscape designs in which the vessel had its surface mottled all over in acid, then had the design painted on it, thus giving a good imitation of add-etched shallow cameo work. These are signed ‘Legras’ on the side.
In the 1920s and 1930s a number of very interesting vessels were produced in which clear crystal or transparent coloured glass vessels had floral or Cubist-inspired Art Deco designs acid-cut in intaglio on the surface. Opaque vessels were similarly decorated in intaglio or cameo with friezes or oblique bands of geometric design or stylised birds. All of these are signed ‘Legras’ on the side in intaglio or cameo. Plainly shaped vessels with bubbled and streaked internal decoration was also produced.
This text has been taken from Arwas, V. (1987) Glass: Art Nouveau to Art Deco. New York, NY: Harry N Abrams.