Text by Kenya Hadnot, Gallery Attendant for the Forsyth Galleries
Born into a family of talent in the mid 1800s, George Woodall naturally drifted toward figurative work, life drawing and soon became a skilled craftsman. Between 1881 and 1882, George and his brother experimented with the production of carving cameo glass, soon specializing in this work. George was determined to refine the process used by John Northwood, the first major carver of cameo glass. George was quickly recognized as the greatest cameo carver of his time, as he surpassed the amount of work ever completed by Northwood. As a perfectionist, he was unhappy with the work of other engravers on his team. So he increasingly worked alone, sketching his own designs and carving his own vases; however, he occasionally collaborated with his brother to create highly valued work. He received much attraction for his solo works, not only because of the elaborate, decorative quality, but also because George’s love for photography marketed the glass very well and added to their commercial success.
The cameo technique refers to the art of carving or engraving a figure on a surface made up of at least two layers of different colors. The design is drawn onto the outer, opaque white layer of the vessel while the area that is meant to remain white is coated with an acid resistant agent. A great deal of skill, experience, and patience allowed engravers to endure the slow working process.
The colored plate I chose, Toilet of Venus by George Woodall, is white on blue on plum plaque (three layers) and is 17 1/4 in. George completed this piece in 1898 only after the artist discovered a flaw in the glass, and the whole of the work (which occupied him for many months) had to be recommenced on a fresh piece of glass. This beautiful piece stood out to me because of the hues and shadows that allowed the girls to come forth as angelic. The inner plate stars his daughters, two of whom are interacting with one another, and the third sitting on the floor in her own world. The depth of the photo along with the dark cobalt blue background give the girls an up-close, magnified view, though detail can be seen throughout the picture. The girls themselves look as if they could be statues as they stand amidst fountains, doves, fruit, bodies of water, plants, and other statues. Superb detail encompasses not only the inner plate, but the border as well. The outer plate consists of mythical creatures patterned in such a way that similar heads face the opposite direction, unless of course it is the lion head. These creatures are surrounded by floral designs and vines.
The tiniest flower was shaded to perfection and I am amazed by the amount of hard work George and similar engravers must have put in during their commercial peak. Every piece I’ve seen is amazing, whether it be simply floral designs on a vase or detailed mythological figures referencing Ancient Greece and Rome. Several of George Woodall’s cameo glass pieces are in possession of the Forsyth Galleries at Texas A&M University, including “Love’s Awakening” featuring Cupid, “Aurora” completed by George and his brother, and numerous vases such as “Wild Waves”, “Diana”, and “Sea Gulls”.