Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka

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Rudolf (standing), Leopold and Caroline Blaschka the garden of their Dresden home
Blaschka model of sea anemones

Leopold Blaschka (27 May 1822– 3 July 1895) and his son Rudolf Blaschka (17 June 1857–1 May 1939) were Czech glass artists from the Bohemian - German border, known for the production of biological models such as the glass flowers.

Early life of Leopold[edit]

Leopold Blaschke was born in Český Dub, Bohemia, to a family which originated from Josefuv Dul (Antoninwald) in the Izera Mountains, a region known for processing glass, metals and gems.[1] The family had also spent time in the glassblowing industry of Venice.[2]

Leopold displayed artistic skills as a child, and was apprenticed to a goldsmith and gemcutter. He then joined the family business, which produced glass ornaments and glass eyes.[2] He developed a technique which he termed "glass-spinning", which permitted the construction of highly precise and detailed works in glass. He also Latinised his family name to "Blaschka", and began to focus the business on the manufacture of glass eyes.[1]

In 1853, Leopold was suffering from ill health and was prescribed a sea voyage. He travelled to the United States and back, using the time at sea to study and draw sea animals, primarily invertebrates.[1]

Early models[edit]

Blaschka model of jellyfish

Leopold's son Rudolf was born in 1857, and the family moved to Dresden to give their child better educational opportunities.[1] Leopold began making glass models of exotic flowers which he had seen depicted in books. Prince Camille de Rohan heard about his work, and commissioned 100 models of orchids in his private collection.[2] In 1863,[1] the Staatliches Museum für Tierkunde Dresden commissioned Leopold to produce twelve models of sea anemones.[2] While these designs were based on drawings in books, Leopold was soon able to use his earlier drawings to produce highly detailed models of other species,[1] and his reputation quickly spread.[2]

Leopold began selling models of marine invertebrates to museums, aquaria, universities and other educational bodies who wanted visual aids but were unable to satisfactorily preserve such animals.[1][2] These represented a great improvement on previous methods of presenting such creatures: drawings, pressing, photographs and papier-mâché or wax models.[1] He gradually extended his range of work by studying marine animals from the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Mediterranean,[1] and later constructed an aquarium at his house, in order to keep live specimens from which to model.[2]

Contact with Harvard[edit]

Part of the Harvard Glass Flowers collection

In about 1880, Rudolf began assisting his father with the models. In that year, they produced 131 models of sea slugs, jellyfish, and other marine invertebrates for the Boston Society of Natural History Museum (now the Museum of Science). These models were seen by Professor George Lincoln Goodale, who was in the process of setting up the Harvard Botanical Museum. In 1886 the Blaschkas were approached by Goodale, who had come to Dresden for the sole purpose of finding them, with a request to make a series of glass botanical models for Harvard; some reports claim that Goodale saw a few glass orchids in the room where they met, surviving from the work two decades earlier.[3] Leopold was initially unwilling as his current business of selling glass marine invertebrates was hugely successful but, eventually, the famed glass artists agreed to send test-models to the U.S. and, although badly damaged by U.S. Customs,[4] but Goodale nonetheless appreciated the fragmentary craftwork and showed them widely - convinced that Blaschka glass art was a more than worthy educational investment. His reasons for wanting the models was simple: At that time, Harvard was the global center of botanical study. As such, Goodale wanted the best, but the only used method was showcasing pressed and carefully labeled specimens — a methodology that offered a twofold problem: being pressed, the specimens were two-dimensional and tended to lose their color. Hence they were hardly the ideal teaching tools.[5][6] However, having already seen Harvard's recently procured glass marine invertebrates and, Professor Goodale realized that glass flowers would solve his problem[6] as, being glass, the were both three-dimensional and would retain their color.

Mary Lee Ware - patron sponsor of the Glass Flowers

But investments require funds, and to cover such an expensive enterprise Goodale approached his former student Mary Lee Ware and her mother, Elizabeth C. Ware, with his idea. Being independently wealthy and (already) liberal benefactors of Harvard's botanical department,[7] Mary convinced her mother to agree to underwrite the consignment of the uncannily lifelike models they both were enchanted by.[3] In 1887,.[8] The contract signed dictated that the Blaschkas need only work half-time on the models (beginning in 1887). They continued to spend their remaining time making marine invertebrate models. This time, arrangements were made to send the models directly to Harvard, where museum staff could open them safely, observed by Customs staff.[3] In 1890, the Blaschkas then signed an exclusive ten-year contract with Harvard, for 8,800 marks per year, to make glass flowers.[8] It was decided that they should be asked to model the widest possible range of plants, and some were to be shown being pollinated, or diseased in some way.[1]

Production of the Glass Flowers[edit]

The Blaschkas used a mixture of clear and coloured glass, sometimes supported with wire, to produce their models.[8] Many pieces were painted, this work being entirely given to Rudolf.[3] In order to represent plants which were not native to the Dresden area, the two studied the exotic plant collections at Pillnitz Palace[8] and the Dresden Botanical Garden, and also grew some from seed sent from the United States.[8] In 1892, Rudolf was sent on a trip to the Caribbean and the U.S. to study additional plants, making extensive drawings and notes.[3]

Rudolf made a second trip to the U.S. in 1895. While he was overseas, Leopold died.[3] Rudolf continued to work alone.[9] By the early twentieth century, he found that he was unable to buy glass of suitably high quality, and so started making his own.[8]

Rudolf continued making models for Harvard until 1938. By then aged 80, old and weary, he announced that he would retire.[10] Neither he nor his father had taken on an apprentice, and Rudolf left no successor.[1] For Harvard alone, Leopold and Rudolf made approximately 4,400 models, 780 showing species at life-size, with others showing magnified details; 3000 are currently on display at the HMNH — the exhibit itself dedicated to Dr. Charles Eliot Ware (the deceased father and husband of Mary and Elizabeth Ware respectively.[8] Moreover and again, unlike the glass marine invertebrates — which were "a profitable global mail-order business"[5] —, the Glass Flowers were commissioned solely for and are unique to Harvard.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Förderverein "Naturwissenschaftliche Glaskunst Blaschka-Haus e. V", URANIA Dresden
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Leopold + Rudolf Blaschka / The Glass Aquarium, Design Museum
  3. ^ a b c d e f "The Fragile Beauty of Harvard's Glass Flowers", The Journal of Antiques and Collectables, February 2004
  4. ^ http://www.cmog.org/article/glass-flowers
  5. ^ a b http://hmnh.harvard.edu/glass-flowers
  6. ^ a b http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/goodale-george.pdf National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
  7. ^ Flowers that never fade / Franklin Baldwin Wiley. Boston Bradlee Whidden, Publisher 1897
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Patricia A. Emison, Growing with the grain, p.184
  9. ^ "The Blaschka Flower Models", Popular Science, March 1897, p.668
  10. ^ "Bohemian maker's retirement completes Harvard glass-flower collection", LIFE, 28 Feb 1938, p.24

External links[edit]