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Marie-Claude Lalique, 67; Designer Led Art Glass Firm Founded by Grandfather

April 26, 2003|Claudia Luther | Times Staff Writer

Marie-Claude Lalique, who for 17 years ran the company founded by her grandfather, Rene Jules Lalique, the 19th and early 20th century creator of art glass, has died. She was 67.

Marie-Claude, who took over the firm's designing and production upon the death of her father, Marc, in 1977, died April 14 at Health Park Hospital in Fort Myers, Fla., near her home on Captiva Island, according to a Fort Myers funeral home. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Barbara Deisroth, Sotheby's director of 20th century decorative arts in New York, said this week that Marie-Claude, who followed in her grandfather's and father's footsteps as a proprietor of the business and as a designer, was responsible for expanding the family name to other luxury items.

"She introduced perfume, she introduced more jewelry, she introduced special edition pieces -- silk scarves, pocketbooks -- so she really changed it from when her father inherited the business," Deisroth said.

She added that although Marie-Claude's own designs had not yet reached collector status, as had her grandfather's and, to some extent, her father's, it was too early to tell if her work would stand the test of time.

"Her grandfather was certainly the star," Deisroth said. "He was a great jewelry designer, a great object designer, a great glass designer. Her father used to be pooh-poohed" as a designer. "Then people began to say he was not like his father, but he was really good. And I think that's what will happen with her."

Rene Lalique became famous in Paris in the late 19th century for Art Nouveau-style jewelry that incorporated glass. Among his many famous clients was actress Sarah Bernhardt. He turned to glass as an art form after Francois Coty asked him to design a label for Coty perfumes and Lalique designed an entire flask. Before that, customers took apothecary bottles to chemists to get them filled with perfume. This marriage of flacon to fragrance was considered the birth of the burgeoning business of perfume marketing.

Once he began making glass objects, Rene turned to creating art glass, an arena that proved to be a huge artistic and commercial success for him. Among his many notable works was a crystal table service for King George VI of England and various glass works for the Oviatt department store in downtown Los Angeles, including lamps, panels, windows, display cases and a massive ceiling. (The ceiling was sold at auction in 1968, and the current owner, Marilyn Rosov of Boynton Beach, Fla., has it on the market.)

Today, Deisroth said, the sums for which Rene Lalique's works sell can range from a few hundred dollars for a small plate to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a vase made in the "lost wax" method.

After Rene's death in 1945, the business fell to his son, Marc, an engineer and designer whose innovations for the company included adding lead to the glass to make it more crystalline and heavy.

Marc also raised his father's trademark satin finish to a high art, and designed several items of note, including the familiar L'Air du Temps perfume bottle and the Cactus table, a 1-ton circular object with a base of unfurling cactus that sells at auction for as much as $35,000 today, according to Deisroth.

Marie-Claude, who graduated from the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs de Paris, wanted to be a theatrical designer, but her father drew her into the company as a child by taking her with him to the factory, where artisans created a menagerie of fragile glass animals for her.

She often said that her father told her, "If some day you happen to like our profession, you will soon find out that you cannot give it up."

And, indeed, almost two decades after she took over the company, she was quoted as saying she loved working with glass because when you start, "it is powdery and dirt in a lot of ways. Then it becomes a flaming, molten thing and then after you work with it, it is a vase. There's something very beautiful about that."

Despite resistance within the company, Marie-Claude brought more color into Lalique designs.

"It was very difficult for the company to be willing to do so," she told the Chicago Tribune in 1996. "I was very insistent it was the way to go."

Her designs tended to be inspired by the natural world, especially by the garden at her country home in Avignon, France, which was named for the Egyptian cat goddess Bastet. Among her many designs are the Martinets vase, with a swallows design, and the Pivoine bowl, which is encrusted with peonies.

"The work of my grand-pere was superb," she said in the Chicago Tribune interview, referring to Rene. "When I was younger, I looked at my heritage and it sort of weighed on my shoulders a great deal. As I grew into myself, I developed more self-confidence."

In 1994, the Lalique company was acquired by Poche, taking it out of the hands of the family for the first time.

According to Kiser Funeral Home in Fort Myers, Lalique is survived by her husband, Jean Dedouvre, and three children: Bertrand, Sophie and Anne, all of France.

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