The Industry & Railways of the South West Black Country
Glass and China Painter, Gilder and Enameller.
The modest word of enamelling stands in the glass industry for one of the most beautiful arts known. Whilst the enamelling of hollow-ware means, as our readers know, the coating of the articles with a blue, white, or black colour, enamelling here stands for one of the highest branches that decorative art in the glass industry in has so far reached. Gilding and enamelling mostly goes together, and it is little known that M. Jules Barbe, of King William Street, is generally regarded as the most prominent individual exponent of this art in this country.
Having studied this art in France, the home of artistic decoration, he came to Stourbridge in 1879, working exclusively for the Dennis Glass Works, until three years ago when he undertook work for other manufactures. It is true that gilding and painting was well know in this country when M. Jules Barbe settled down, but for reasons which it is difficult to find out this kind of decorative art was gradually dropped by those manufacturers in whose works works it was done, and M. J. Barbe is now the only representative of it in this district, and of this particular line in this country.
Gilding and enamelling means the painting of designs upon glass or china in gold or colours. All designs are sketched by M. Jules Barbe himself. The gold in its dissolved state looks a brownish paste is put on according to the design by means of brushes, which in the case of painting of monograms, consists sometimes of but a few hairs. The painted glasses are then "fired" in specially constructed muffles.
After having received two, three, or sometimes four firings, they are taken out and burnished, in order to brighten the gold, by the use of brushes made from spun glass, and afterwards, with agate, and bloodstone. The gold which after the burning has a dull appearance acquires a wonderful brilliancy. As most of the monograms, crests, coats of arms, and flower decorations are done in raised gold, the results are such as should be seen to be appreciated in all their beauty.
Whilst the effects of gold painting are simple and dignified, those secured by enamelling have all the richness of a great painting. Enamels consist of a composition of the nature of glass and in the firing, which requires very careful attention, mix with the glass and become part of it, giving a brilliant translucency of a large number of varied and most beautiful tints.
In M. Jules Barbe's atelier are many samples of his beautiful art. The writer saw a desert plate, heavily gilded in Empire style, of exquisite design and artistic execution, and many other works of art decorated either in gold or colours, but it would be impossible to depict their beauty. No catalogue of a picture gallery or an art museum could convey the faintest idea of the treasures stored therein, nor could we describe to the reader the beautiful results of M. Barbe's art; they must be seen to be appreciated.
There is no doubt that among the many artist of high standing who have applied themselves to decorative arts, M. Barbe takes a prominent place, and that in his particular art he is "facile princeps."
© Tom Cockeram 1998