The Cambridge Glass Fair
three hundred years of collectable glass in one day
Istvan Andras Komáromy (pronounced Com–arr-roh-me) was born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1910, to a Hungarian civil engineer father working on the building of the Rhine bridges. The family returned to Budapest in Hungary shortly afterwards, where he grew up and subsequently studied medical science. In the late 1920s, such students had to purchase or make laboratory glassware and Istvan discovered he had a talent for glass blowing, making scientific glassware for fellow students and thereby creating additional income. This led to a fascination with glass and he began making artistic art deco-style glass items in his spare time.
Impressed, his professor sponsored Istvan on his first exhibition, launching his career. He attended major venues around Europe, at which the young glass artist won a number of gold and silver medals. In Milan in 1931, he was described by the Italian School as "the Michelangelo of glass” - quite a tribute from any Italian!
All of Komáromy's glass pieces were made using a Bunsen burner and either solid or tubular coloured or opaque glass rods. He used over 200 kinds of glass, subsequently manufactured in the UK at Plowden and Thompson in Stourbridge to his own recipes.
He called himself a sculptor in glass although he also blew – using this technique for the various glasses, vases and sculpture bases he made. The larger pieces he made required controlled cooling to prevent cracking and instant destruction for which he adapted a conventional gas oven.
In 1935 he visited Britain as a celebrity glass artist, giving demonstrations throughout the country at stores specializing in high quality glassware, such as Harrods in London. He was also featured on British Pathe News that year, making a beautiful glass figurine, “Aurora greeting the Sun”, as well as a statue of the cameraman filming him.
In 1937 he married an English woman, Ruth Stratford, setting up both home and glass studio at Leinster Gardens, near Marble Arch in London. Just before the war, he bought the family home and larger studio at Shirley, Croydon in Surrey where he lived till his death aged 64, in 1975.
Istvan was highly acclaimed and successful, creating a good career and life style, counting several Royal families amongst those who collected his work, including the British monarchy. Queen Mary commissioned a set of glasses with a nude white figurine in the stem, which became known as the Mary Glasses. These were bequeathed to Princess Margaret who had five replacement glasses ordered for her in 1971, via Thomas Goode in Mayfair (who hold 3 royal crests) to complete the original set of one dozen.
Istvan was left a widower and father of three small children in 1950 which changed his opportunities to develop his style. Previous to this, his work was very eclectic but, increasingly, he made work that he knew would sell. It has been said that his career suffered because of the constraints of being a solo parent.
He loved making glass animals for his children and his sense of humour was seen in early ‘Mickey Mouse’ figurettes.
At New Year, he continued the Hungarian good-luck custom of bringing a pig (like coal in Scotland) by creating glass pigs, made with a large content of ruby and gold glass, for his family. His Easter chicks were very popular but the ducks and coloured fish he made are quite amazingly realistic. In his early career, he made many different figures – from tired Magyar workers tilling the fields or attending to geese and abstract art deco type figurines to the sensitively balanced and astoundingly accurate ballerina dancers for which he became particularly well known. But he also made chess sets, candelabras, liqueur jugs, sherry glasses and champagne flutes, glass trees, Christmas ornaments – even buttons (during the war) and necklaces as special presents, as well as countless species of animals. He would occasionally take on specific assignments, such as creating a Ladies Gift for the Dove Motor Company of two doves seated in a tree. Komáromy's early pieces were not marked, but silver signed labels were attached from the early ‘60s.
He made a gift of 'The Leader' for the wedding of Prince Philip to Princess Elizabeth, our present queen, in 1947. This statue group shows a powerful stag leading a doe and her fawn on a wooden base and represents 'The Family' or 'The Country'. He subsequently attended a Buckingham Palace reception. Many of his non-freestanding early pieces were placed on wood but in later years he used marble.
He taught at Wimbledon School of Art and also lectured at London’s Slade School of Fine Art, mentoring a number of students in Croydon. He made two live television broadcasts; on 17th September 1951 – The Art Magazine No 3 shown between 8.45 to 9.15 pm and, on 22nd July 1952, Artist at Work No 1. Peter Thompson was the producer of both programmes. He also appeared with Joan Gilbert in her programme, ‘Picture Page’.
Two pieces of his early work, a gymnast and a Hungarian peasant sowing seeds in a field, are currently shown in the Victoria and Albert Museum (Glass Room 131, case 82, shelf 3) and further work is in the Pilkington's Museum of Glass, as well as in the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest, Hungary. Until recently his work was not well known amongst glass collectors but following the appearance of a dancer on the Antiques Roadshow in, his work has enjoyed a well-deserved renaissance and a renewed appreciation of his unique art.
Based on an article by Chris Burley.
Chris Burley and Keith Hill will be attending the fair and will be delighted to answer any questions visitors may have.
• Diana - Goddess of the Hunt
• The Leader
• Water Carrier vase
Note: All images supplied by Chris Burley, Keith Hill & Andy McConnell