We might say that Friedrich Egermann was born to a rich family, hence destined to succeed. It looked like that at his birth. His mother, Anna Rosa Kittelova, called Rosina, came from glass family - the Kittel family. However, she married well to much older lord officer Friedrich Egermann. On 5th March 1777she laid down in one of the chambers of Šluknov castle, where her husband worked for the Harrach family. How can appearance deceive?
They say that the father is always insecure. That was certainly the case of new-born Friedrich. Even worse, the count officer didn´t want to accept his paternity. The child was more of a complication for him. The parents forsake the child almost immediately after the lying-in period. The crying baby was sent to his old and poor great-aunt for a temporary period of upbringing, but permanently. His mother, reportedly, came to see him only once, on his second birthday. Moreover, the parents left Šluknov castle and moved to Krásné Pole near Chřibská, to Mr Egermann´s new place of work.
As if the boy was cursed. One year after his birth, infamous “Potato War” started, the Prussian-Austrian armed conflict - with no fight. The Prussians invaded Northern Bohemia and misbehaved rather badly. While plundering the area of Šluknov, the drunk bandits took young Friedrich as a part of the prey. Who knows why they did that, maybe as a joke. However, it was really difficult to get the boy back. In the end, it was only possible due to intervention from the highest places in Vienna.
Nevertheless, Friedrich continued to grow as an unwanted child. Eventually, it seemed he might be lucky after all. Blood is no water, thought his uncle Christof Anton Kittel, dean in Polevsko. Plus, the boy could work on the farm and in the church for some food and a bad. It was a strange serfdom. The vicar was very strict. He sometimes tied Friedrich to a table with a rope so he didn´t run and then he had to knit stockings. Honestly, so far, it does not seem like a story of a man, who would have a profound effect on Czech glassmaking or glassmaking in general.
The change that we are impatiently waiting for occurred only when the second uncle Anton Kittel, the owner of glass hut in Chřibská took young Friedrich. Friedrich started the apprenticeship. It took two years to become “coat of arms painter”, as painters called themselves, or “stain master”, which was a general designation. He was also dismissed from the apprenticeship and accepted to the guild of cutters, gilders and glass painters. As it turned out, that was not a win situation.
At that time, the Czech glassmaking was in crisis. Sales were declining; there were wars, ruined roads and wood was getting more and more expensive. Besides, Czech glass painters were very conservative. They imitated and copied rather than invent something new and original, as Friedrich soon found out. However, he wanted a new life. He wanted to achieve something, to prove to the others that he is not just an unwanted kid. He collected all his things and set out on a journey. Sounds almost like a fairy-tale, but what awaits him is even more unbelievable.
Friedrich headed to Meissen, to a porcelain fortress, where only a few people got because the secret of local porcelain production was one of the most guarded secrets in Europe. It was difficult to get to the castle – Albrechtsburg, towering over the city. It was difficult enough just to get into the city. Everyone was suspicious of foreigners wanting to steal their know-how. However, Friedrich managed to do that. He was clever about it - he pretended ignorance. He sneaked into the porcelain factory in Albrechtsburg as a tinker and behaved like a complete ignorant and simpleton. “Painting? That is not for me, I just worked as a helper in the glassworks. The masters were not really nice to me and teased me. So, I ran.” … He did what was necessary. He was delivering schnapps to the masters and gradually eavesdropped the procedures and principles, which were guarded as Crown Jewels. There was a lot to learn. Local masters of painting were supported by the highest circles. They were trained and controlled by the professors of painting at Dresden Academy. They had the latest tools, especially beautiful brushes with marten hair, incomparable to regular brushes that Friedrich was using while learning to paint. The young spy slowly learned the secret of colour preparation, brush production, fine painting technology and decor firing.
The new century was slowly approaching when Friedrich returned home. He knew he needed to study painting more. He attended drawing lessons for two years. His teacher was an artist and a piarist priest Marcellin Fromm from Haida (a city, which has been called Nový Bor ever since 1948). Friedreich's art performance improved and softened significantly under his supervision. He founded his workshop in Polevsko and very quickly became quite famous in the region due to his talent and skill. At that time, hollow and flat glass was very popular. If detailly decorated, it looked like porcelain. The prices of porcelain were high, so many burghers preferred the substitute. There was enough work. Friedrich mastered the imitation of a fine painting on porcelain. He gradually perfected and softened it. The success of that era was not just commercial. He won a prestige award as well.
That happened in 1802, when he exhibited his work in Haida, at the exposition by Zinecký that was held in honour of Archduke Karl´s visit. Two years later, Emperor František l. and his wife visited Haida. They were intrigued by a beautiful large lamp base. It was made from milk-white glass, which was called “koštěnka” and was lavishly decorated. The imperial couple wanted to know who is the author. When they found out it was Friedrich Egermann from Polevsko, they expressed the highest praise to young glass painter.
Friedrich´s fame was growing fast. It was growing so fast that he managed to get among glass “aristocracy”. Glass businessman, glassmaking master and glass merchant, wealthy Benedikt Schürer von Waldheim agreed for his daughter to marry this young and skilled painter, no matter how poor he was. And so, Friedrich got married at the age of twenty-nine. his wife's dowry and father-in-law's contacts opened the door for him.
Friedrich Egermann was deep down an alchemist, inventor and innovator. The passion he gained in the laboratories in Meissen was getting stronger and stronger. He started to improve colours as he did with the brushes. The colours fascinated him, yet he wasn´t satisfied with the existing assortment. He was searching. He was trying. He was experimenting. At the cost of his health. He, for instance, one day came across four hundred years old glass calyx with no leg with the signs of yellow glaze. It was completely forgotten glaze that nobody knew how to create for over a hundred years. Friedrich began the research. In the beginning, he was not successful, till he finally thought that the source of the glaze must be silver. However, silver in certain cases and compounds might be explosive, and during one experiment, a massive explosion occurred, Friedrich was ejected through the lab and seriously injured. He was badly burned, and his hair was scorched completely. For that reason, he had to wear a black cap for the rest of his life. This cap became his characteristic sign. The following experiments were successful, and the “invention” or rather rediscovery of a yellow glaze gained world-wide importance. Friedrich´s prestige went through the roof. It was the year 1818. Thanks to that, Friedrich gained some benefits – he, for example, got an exception from the bishop of Litoměřice that allowed him to keep on his cap during the mass. He supposedly didn´t have to take off his cap standing in front of the emperor himself. This was not just a theoretical privilege, as Friedrich used to meet with the emperor Ferdinand l. of Austria, the last crowned king of Bohemia, quite often. Ferdinand often stayed in Zákupy, where Friedrich used to visit him. The emperor even visited Friedrich in Haida. Not long after the rediscovery of yellow glaze, Friedrich, now rich businessman, obtains in Haida the town privileges, buys two houses and opens glass refinery.
At that time, he was still helping the Kittel family as a glassworks´ manager in Nová Huť and then in mirror factory of the Count Kinský in Sloup v Čechách. However, his journey led to the refinery in Haida to other experiments and inventions. It was a lot for one person. Egermann improved the composition of milk glass, so-called “koštěnky”, so it would not twist and endure the firing of the painting. He came up with painted plates and targets that were used for the chandelier and mirror decorating. Very new was also his “agate making”, which was a way of glass frosting, mostly milk glass. After the discovery of yellow glaze, there followed the upgrade of white email colour to pearl (shiny) and biscuit (matt) email. A few years later, he came with another discovery – marble glass, which resembled semiprecious stones. That was a breakthrough. At Vienna´s university, this new type of glass was given a name lithyalin. And that is still not everything. Friedrich´s most famous discovery is still yet to come.
The beginning of the thirties. At the age of fifty-three, Friedrich Egermann fulfils nearly fifteen years of searching and experimenting. He announces the invention of red glaze, also known as “the clear glass lazing”. He almost wanted to give up. He had been trying to get red colour by using ducat gold for more than ten years. There were around five thousand experimental melts, and the ducats were literary flying through the chimney. When he was getting desperate, he saw the solution in his dream. In his memoir, he wrote: “Coper oxide appeared before my eyes. And it was made in gold.” Yes, it was penetration, professionally diffusion – of copper into the glass surface that became Egermann´s life discovery. Two years later, he started the production in his refinery in Haida. He could not possibly find a better time.
It was then that the fashion of clear glass ended and the market started to demand the colour and painted glass. So-called “second Rococo” dictated fashion themes. Egermann was ready. His colour and layered glass perfectly decorated by flat and plastic emails, shiny or matt effect, or precious metal painting was demanded all over the world. Egermann´s fame was at the top. Nevertheless, success provokes envy and professional rivalry. Everyone understood that Egermann is one of his kind. They knew nobody could surpass him regarding research and experiment, so they chose another way. In 1840, his atelier in Haida was robbed, and all the material went missing, including the red glaze receipt. Soon after, there appeared producers of Friedrich´s original inventions appeared in other parts of Bohemia, in Germany, France or Northern America. The reason was clear – Egermann did not patent his invention.
The unwanted child, an outlaw of his own family. Stubborn, patient and creative person, who never accepted that something is not possible. His life ambition was to puzzle out secrets. If he was born a hundred years earlier, he would look for the Philosopher´s Stone. He was searching – and discovering – secrets of glass and colours that were enhancing the fragile beauty. He was unique. And he was appreciated and honoured during his life. He gained the title of privileged c and k producer that authorized him to sell his production all over the monarchy. He was awarded first silver and then golden medal from the Union for the Encouragement of Industry in Bohemia. Hundreds of people worked in his refinery. He owned a showroom at the main square in Haida, where he welcomed important visits from all over the world. And what´s more, he was allowed to produce his own money.
However poor he was at the beginning, as an adult, he became a very rich man. Despite that, he still lived a quite modest life without excesses. He lived for the glass, and it was his life goal and love. He had seven kids with Elisabeth, and four of them lived to adulthood. His son Anton was gifted after his father. He became a glass painter, and at the age of twenty, he was working in the workshop in Polevsko, using his father´s techniques of relief painting. Anton took over when Friedrich died on the first day of 1864 when he was eighty-sixed.
Egermann´s glazes are still typical for products from Nový Bor and glassmakers still have success with these products all over the world. Egermann is a still used brand. Friedrich Egermann´s art pieces are part of Czech glass collection, as well as major European and Northern American glass collections. House number 101 in Nový Bor still contains Egermann´s indomitable energy and faith in honest and patient searching that always leads to discovery.