Furniture of Glass, at the Corning Museum

Published: June 16, 2006

One of the least known chapters in design history is the story of
antique glass furniture, which seems to have become fashionable in the
18th century, during the reign of Catherine the Great of Russia.

The courts of Europe took notice in the 1780's when the empress ordered
huge glass fixtures and glass-topped tables from her Imperial Glass
Works for the Grand Palace at Tsarskoye Selo outside St. Petersburg.

About the same time the Scottish-born architect Charles Cameron designed
a dressing room for her there with walls, ceiling, columns and doors all
in glass. Pompeian motifs were picked out in blue and gold on glass
walls flanked by blue glass columns. All the furniture was made with
slabs of blue glass, and the glass ceiling was decorated with Adamesque
motifs in blue and gold. This glamorous chamber, destroyed during World
War II, was documented in a watercolor from the 1860's.

A new exhibition at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, N.Y., "Glass
of the Maharajahs: European Cut Glass Furnishings for Indian Royalty"
(through Nov. 30), opens with a room of glass furniture that predates
glass made for the Indian market. The most striking piece is from the
Imperial Glassworks in St. Petersburg: a glass table from 1808 that has
a single piece of deep blue octagonal glass for its top, a conical
center section in blown amber glass, a square dark amber glass base and
ormolu paw feet.