France’s flourishing art world had taken a resolute step away from its history-inspired architectural and decorative influences prevalent in the third quarter of the 19th century by adopting Art Nouveau, a more subtle, organic style that drew its inspiration from nature, both in its motifs and approach to structure. It was at this time that the Muller brothers were starting to experiment with their first works under the tutelage of Émile Gallé (1846 – 1904), a renowned artist that primarily worked in glass and ceramics who was to become a recognisable figure in the movement.
Having learned what he needed to establish his own company, Henri Muller moved to Lunéville and did just that in 1895, taking along four of his brothers. A sister and three other brothers eventually joined them as well, making running the company more or less a family affair. Gallé played an important part in influencing their first designs as they relied mostly on cameo glass and organic images reminiscent of his own style. They bought glass blanks which were made to order at “Gobeleterie Hinzelin”, a glassworks located in Croismare, a village not far from the city of Nancy, which was the 2nd largest French artistic hub after Paris at the time.
In accordance with the period’s disdain for mass-production and regularity in design, a lot of effort was put into producing original, richly-coloured lamps and vases. Insects, animals and flowers served as their main motifs, executed with striking effect thanks to a process where a number of differently-coloured glass layers was cut to produce the desired outcome.
After the start of WWI the company ceased production and one of the brothers, Eugene, was killed. Nevertheless, the Muller family managed to come together again after it ended and restart the business in earnest. In 1919 they bought the glassworks at Hinzelin and unified the two companies in what was from then on known as “Grandes Verreries de Croismare et Verrerie d'Art Muller Frères Réunies AS”
The 1920s were an exciting time for Muller Frères. The new Art Deco movement that was taking hold in France after 1925 had an impact on the company, both in terms of altering their approach to production and its commercial success. More commercially oriented than before, the company employed up to 300 people at its peak and was starting to produce increased quantities of chandeliers, lamps and other lighting.
These pieces of Art Deco glassware were often spattered with colour and had a matte finish. Wanting to cater to more exotic tastes as well as to the average consumer, Muller Frères partially shifted away from their organic motifs, adopting depictions of exotic locations and the use of precious materials in the form of gold and silver leaf. These designs proved to be so successful that they even attracted attention from David Gueron (1892 – 1950), who was accused of plagiarising some of them.
Regrettably, the company never managed to recover from the Great Depression since the need for luxury glass plummeted. They stopped production in 1933, and the company closed its doors permanently three years after that.