Creator of light
By Julie Carter
As a contemporary of Rene Lalique, the stunning glass of Marius Sabino has tended to be overlooked in favour of his far more famous competitor - even though Sabino's designs are considered to be amongst the best in the world.
Born in Sicily to a wood-sculpting father in 1878, Marius Ernest Sabino (1878-1961) moved to France with his family whilst he was still a young boy. He studied at L'Ecole National des Arts Decoratifs and the Beaux Arts de Paris, although his original interest was in electric lighting. He volunteered for the army in the First World War, and on his return he established a factory to manufacture light fittings from wood and bronze, but it wasn't long before Sabino realised the potential of glass in lighting.
Using state of the art techniques, it was possible for him to create moulds into which he poured the translucent molten material that would be used to create the glass for the enormous chandeliers that he designed for the architectural world. His work was admired by the manufacturing sector and in 1927 Sabino was commissioned to design and create special lighting for the luxury liner Isle de France; in 1935 he designed a lighted fountain column for the Grand Salon of the ocean liner Le Normandie. The following year the Shah of Persia commissioned all the electric light fittings and chandeliers for his palace from Sabino's firm.
In 1925 Sabino had developed a lustrous opalescent glass with a blue tinge, into which iridescent impressions could be made. He used this innovation to make a range of decorative objects including vases, plates, bookends, paperweights, lampshades and figures, some of them quite enormous in size. He tended towards natural themes such as animals and aquatic creatures, as well as creating impressions of women, clouds in a sky, reflections from a water surface and the extraordinary vision of light striking a bubble. Sabino was himself the designer of the entire production and his company became the leading French glass exporter of the mid-1920s, supplying a vast range of glassware to the United States.
The early glass produced by Sabino had a higher arsenic content than most other opalescent glass, giving his pre-1940s pieces a softer look and a 'soapy' feel that is not present in his later wares, when he changed the formula and reduced the chemical component. During the 1930s he also added other colours to his opalescent range: yellow, purple and a smoky hue.
For the 1937 Exposition Universelle, Marius Sabino created an illuminated glass column. It was greatly admired by a visiting maharajah who requested that Sabino make him a throne of glass, but the outbreak of the Second World War halted production at the glassworks and the commission was never completed.
When work began again in the early 1940s the production was of smaller decorative glass pieces - birds, fish, other animals and a range of insects and butterflies. The factory was taken over by Sabino's adopted son Gripooix-Sabino, who ran it until the 1978 when the entire operation was sold to the company's American agent. No new designs had been created, with the factory using the moulds that had originally been designed by Marius Sabino, and the American firm continues to this day to produce Sabino art glass in France using the same moulds and the same processes at the same factory, with the output being exported to Texas in the United States and distributed to worldwide outlets from there. The new glass can be determined from the original by its badly finished detail and poor quality glass - most of the Sabino glass offered on eBay would belong to this group.
Although Lalique and Sabino are two of the names most associated with high quality opalescent glass from the 1920s and '30s, the technique itself had been developed decades before by a man named John LaFarge, who patented the method in 1879. LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany both experimented with the medium, in which the cooling process creates the opalescent effect that illuminates any colouration to the glass when a light is shone on it. The degree of the opalescence and its position in the glass is controlled by the heating and reheating process, the chemical agents used and by the thickness of the glass as it forms in the moulds, making the metal models an important part of the process. Sabino used many iron moulds created by Frenchman Etienne Franckhauser, who also supplied Lalique and a number of other contemporaries. Using metal moulds required a high level of finesse and a constant overall temperature in order to ensure the thinner parts of the item did not break away as the piece cooled.
Sabino marked his glass depending on where it was intended to be sold. Items for export were marked 'Sabino France', with the signagture usually moulded; items intended for sale within France were marked 'Sabino Paris', usually etched to the base of the piece. During the 1930s a trademark of 'Verart' and 'Vernox' were also used, as Sabino competed against cheaper opalescent producers such as Holophane, whose glass was trademarked 'Verlys'.
This information first appeared in the Winter 2012 issue of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.