Glorious Glass at Biltmore
Written By Jean Sexton
Glass is a magical material that can assume nearly any form. It can be incredibly fragile or made to be bulletproof. It has the properties of being both liquid and solid—at the same time—and it can be recycled over and over again.
Chihuly at Biltmore
With such a fluid nature, it’s no wonder artists often choose glass as a medium to express their creativity. We’re currently hosting Chihuly at Biltmore—the first art exhibition in Biltmore’s historic gardens, and the first garden exhibition of Dale Chihuly’s works in North Carolina.
Chihuly’s extraordinary glass sculptures made us curious about other types of art glass at Biltmore, and here’s what we discovered:
Intriguing green glass
“As we’ve been cleaning and photographing the china and crystal collections in the Butler’s Pantry, we came across an interesting set of glassware,” said Genevieve Bieniosek, Furniture Conservator. “It turned out to be uranium glass.”
Under regular lighting, uranium glass is a pale, transparent green or greenish-yellow. But when exposed to ultraviolet energy, the pieces fluoresce bright green.
“Manufacturers would add uranium oxide to glass as a colorant to produce a range of colors from pale greenish-yellow to bright green,” Genevieve said, “and it has been used as a glass colorant since at least the 1830s. We don’t know much about this set, but it is part of Biltmore’s collection.”
The crystal collection
Most of the crystal stemware and glassware purchased by the Vanderbilts was produced by French manufacturer Baccarat or the British firm of Thomas Webb & Sons who specialized in high-quality engraved crystal and colored glass.
Other interesting pieces
Located in the Claude Room, which is part of the elegant Louis XV Suite, is another unusual piece—an 1890 Tiffany vase from glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. The hand-blown vase features different layers of glass in different colors, with a gold metallic surface and woven sterling silver overlay.
Though the style is markedly different from Tiffany’s iconic stained glass lamps, it demonstrates his mastery of glassmaking techniques.
Many forms of glass are highly collectable and though George Vanderbilt did not amass a vast collection, he certainly appreciated the art form. We are fortunate to have representative works from artists like John La Farge and Tiffany and the functional beauty of the monogrammed Vanderbilt crystal in our collection, and the tremendous creative talent of artist Dale Chihuly now currently on display.
Plan your visit to Biltmore today and marvel at Chihuly at Biltmore now through October 7. To see the glass collections stored in the Butler’s Pantry, reserve your space on our Upstairs – Downstairs Tour that offers a glimpse into the daily life of the staff that kept America’s Largest Home® running so smoothly.
Featured blog image: Renee Jolly, Objects Conservator, cleans a gold-rimmed amethyst glass plate in the Butler’s Pantry. Little is known about this particular collection, but the style indicates it may be from the 1920s or 30s.