NEW YORK — Ercole Barovier (Italian, 1889-1974) was arguably the most influential and innovative Murano glassblower in the early part of the 20th century.
He was born into a family that has been making glass for centuries on the Italian island of Murano, which is renowned for glass, and the family’s company, now called Barovier & Toso, remains active today. Although he had big shoes to fill in terms of his family’s contributions to the medium, he more than rose to the challenge. Becoming artistic director in his family’s firm at age 30 in 1919, he adapted to the changing times, bringing a modernist approach to art glass and constantly seeking new techniques for blowing glass.
Barovier is celebrated for his Art Deco pieces from the early 1930s in his Primavera series as well as his Intarsio series, to name just a few. Prices range from a few thousand dollars to six figures depending on the era in which the piece was made and its rarity and craftsmanship. “What is most valuable and what is he most known for — those are probably two different things,” said Richard Wright, CEO of Chicago-based Wright. “He worked for such a long time and oversaw such a wide array of styles and techniques. I think most people would start with the most iconic pieces from the post-war era with the Intarsio series, which are these triangles of glass in beautiful colors, and vases he made of murrines in the post-war period.”
The market for Ercole Barovier’s works has been robust overall, but it should be pointed out that the market for Italian glass is fairly small, especially for museum-quality pieces. Wright said that due to authenticity issues in this field, buyers should carefully vet potential purchases by researching the provenance and history of a piece they are considering. “We work really hard to ensure that everything we sell is authentic, and I work with two outside specialists that have 30 years plus just doing Italian glass,” he said.
Buyers new to this market will, however, find it accessible, with much information available on Italian glass and on Barovier’s work in particular. “It’s a mature collecting field, so there are a ton of books out there – people have been collecting it for decades,” he said. “It’s a fairly small group of passionate collectors that compete for the absolute rarities, and there is opportunity for new collectors to enter, because you can buy really great pieces under $10,000.”
Among Barovier’s works from the 1930s, which bring prices in the low six figures, is his Primavera glass. A Primavera piccione (pigeon) attained $185,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Wright in December 2020. “It was a technique that nobody knew the secret recipe for,” Wright said, noting that the pigeon is all the more striking as it is rendered solely in black and white. “All color kind of goes away, and there’s this magical crackle look. It’s all internal, but there’s this visual quality of these almost fracturing crystalline structures.”
Among the glass techniques Barovier’s firm developed was murrine glass (mosaic glass), which was largely due to the innovation of his uncle, Benedetto Barovier. Ercole Barovier was already excelling at this style by 1924 when he made a large oval vase that consisted of a mosaic of diamond-shaped murrines in vibrant bands of color. This vase, having a distinct painterly style, performed well, selling for €160,000 ($175,640) plus the buyer’s premium in February 2017 at Cambi Casa D’Aste.
Another coveted Barovier creation is a cactus sculpture that brought $120,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Wright in April 2020. It was certainly an unexpected form for an Italian glassblower, for whom cacti are not a native species. Fellow glassblower Napoleone Martinuzzi had already created glass cactus sculptures, which Barovier certainly would have been aware of. Barovier’s circa-1933 piece featured opaque red corallo glass comprising the undulating coral branches while the section dubbed the ‘flower pot’ was rendered in incamiciato glass, which means the black glass was encased in a clear glass.
“It’s pretty unusual for Barovier; this is absolutely stylistically influenced by Martinuzzi,” Wright said. “For me, it’s a surrealistic sort of composition, it feels sort of like an underwater plant, and the execution captures that movement.”
Another spectacular Barovier form can be seen in a circa-1955 egg-shaped vase that has geometric milky-white and blue murrines against a clear backdrop. The vase realized €9,500 ($10,442) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Cambi Casa D’Aste.
During his 50-year tenure as artistic director, Barovier continued experimenting with glass, determined to push the medium as far as he could. His Tessere Ambra series, which was executed as vases, bowls and plates, featured blown pieces made with rectangular tiles of amber-colored glass. A circa-1957 Tessere Ambra vase with alternating glass tessera edged in amethyst achieved $28,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Wright in March 2022.
One of Ercole Barovier’s best-known and highly collected styles of work was his aforementioned Intarsio glass, which typically featured vividly colored tesserae of colored glass fused in bold patterns. A fine example of this is a circa-1961-1963 Intarsio vase with bright primary-hued triangles amid controlled air bubbles, which took $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018 at Wright.
While Barovier is celebrated for his use of vivid colors, he also created striking clear glass pieces, which have their sculptural nature enhanced by the lack of color. Mid-range collectors can find accessible pieces on the market such as the circa-1957 spindle-shaped Sidone vase, one of which earned €16,000 ($17,580) plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen GmbH, or a circa-1956 cylindrical blown glass vase from the Millefili series that made €16,000 ($17,580) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021 at Cambi Casa D’Aste.
Ercole Barovier left a rich legacy in glassmaking, and his influence is clearly evident in contemporary pieces. “Ercole Barovier is amongst the most important glass designers and makers, and his artistic production is among the very best and the top of what was produced,” Wright said. Evolving with the times and combining traditional practices with cutting-edge techniques, Barovier fed demand for high-quality Italian art glass in his lifetime and well beyond. Collectors who appreciate his flair for color, geometry and artistry continue to cherish his creations.