Last Updated: Mar 28, 2019     Views: 944

From Kelley Elliot, Curatorial Assistant (6/8/2012)


I recently did some research on the gemmaux pieces in The Corning Museum of Glass collection, and on the technique in general.  Here is a summary of what I discovered: 


Gemmaux (pl.), literally translated as “enamel gem” in French, is an art form where colored pieces of glass are fused to each other in layers to create works of art.  The gemmail technique was invented by painter Jean Crotti (1870-1958) in about 1935. In 1938, Crotti sought the assistance of Roger Malherbe-Navarre, and his family, to help with his light boxes.  And again in 1953, Crotti approached Roger Malherbe-Navarre for help in developing a more permanent adhesive to fuse the glass pieces together without obstructing light.   Crotti patented this process of fusing pieces of colored glass to each other to create decorative panels, but in 1955 he ceded the rights to Roger Malherbe-Navarre.


Gammaux are created by “gemmistes”, who cut the colored glass pieces and adhere them to each other using glues. When panels have been fully assembled, they are immersed in an enamel solution and put into ovens to “fuse”.  Once cooled, the panels are mounted into metal light boxes fitted with florescent lamps and electric cords.    


Some of the first gemmaux were religious in nature, referencing the connection to stained-glass windows.  Right around 1954, they re-created the painting Le Coq by Picasso using the gemmail technique.  When the gemmail panel was completed, Crotti invited Picasso to the studio. Upon seeing the gemmail, Picasso declared, ”A new art is born.”  He then agreed to sign the work and permit it to be shown.  Other well-known artists soon followed. 


The gemmail technique was also used commercially for advertising in places such as subway stations. 


In 1957, Roger Malherbe created the “Prix du Gemmail;”  a yearly juried award for young new artists working in the gemmail technique.


The Corning Museum of Glass has 16 gemmail panels in its permanent collection. Fifteen of these came to the museum in 1993 as a gift from Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. in Pittsburgh, PA.  And one came to the museum in 1968 as a gift from the Air France, but was destroyed in the Corning’s flood of 1972.


Two of the gemmail panels designed by Picasso, that are currently in our collection, did appear in an exhibition called the “First American Exhibit of ‘Gemmaux de France’" in 1959.  There were twenty gemmaux works displayed in this exhibition.  In addition to the two Picasso panels, the following  gemmail panels in our collection were also exhibited:  Orphée aux Feuillages by Jean Cocteau, Passé, Présent, Avenir by Jean Crotti, a work titled Voiles by Danielle d’Humes (we have a piece titled Voiles Heureuses in our collection; not sure if this is the same work), Jeux d’Enfants by Dominique Dalozo, and Jean d’Arc and Pont de Grenelle by Louis Gilis.


At some point in time, The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, acquired sixteen gemmaux panels, including some of the panels in the 1959 exhibition.  They then organized a traveling exhibition of their panels in 1962 called “Masterpieces in Glass,”  meant to be shown in department stores throughout the country to promote fiberglass curtains made by The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.  The panels remained in the collection of The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company until 1993, when all but one of the panels in the 1962 exhibition were gifted to the Corning Museum of Glass.  The one piece that was not included in the gift was called Gitanie by Roland de Thonon; winner of the 1958 “Prix du Gemmail.”


In the attached document “Gemmaux_Panel_List” I have included condition statements about the gemmaux when they arrived at the Corning Museum of Glass from The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co. in 1993.  And the only images we have of the gemmaux are photographs taken of the pieces before they arrived at Corning Museum of Glass, or photocopies of the pieces found in articles and catalogs.  We plan to re-examine these works very soon and re-assess their condition.


Please let me know if you have any questions. And if you have any more information that would be good for us to include in our object files, please let me know. 






Comments (1)

  1. Can you tell me who owns the remaining 24 Gemmaux's Collection
    by JM Stephens on Mar 15, 2013

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