Émile Gallé was born in France in 1846 and his training included art, botany, and chemistry, three subjects, which he combined in his brilliant designs for glass and other mediums (pottery, furniture, jewelry). His father, Charles Gallé, owned a glass and ceramics factory in Nancy. After much travelling and training, fighting in the war between France and Prussia, working for the glass company "Burgun, Schverer et Cie" in Meisenthal, Gallé settled back in Nancy and set up his own glass studio in 1873 where he initially made classical forms of glass with classical, intricate, enamelled designs.
Moving on from these designs to botanical themes, again in enamelled glass, it was not until the 1878 International Exhibition in Paris, when Gallé saw the work of his contemporaries such as John Northwood and Joseph Locke from England (cameo glass) and Eugene Rousseau (pate de verre) that he developed new and adventurous designs for his glass.
Eleven years later at the Paris International Exhibition (1889) Gallé exhibited his own new types of glass, including carved cameo work and many new colors. His achievements earned him recognition in the French Legion of Honour.
Even in those early years, Gallé made two distinct qualities of glass. On the one hand his "poems in glass", masterpieces that took hours and hours of patient work to make. And on the other hand, his high quality art glass designed to be less expensive to make, but still an object of beauty, good enough to carry his signature. This was later to develop into what is today called "industrial Gallé".
In 1894, Gallé built a massive new glassworks in Nancy, and ended his dependence on the Burgun, Schverer glassworks for producing some of his glass. He employed a team of craftsmen-designers, who worked to the edict that all Gallé designs should be true to nature. Gallé himself modified and approved these designs before they were made by teams of craftsmen in his Cristallerie D'Emile Gallé. Throughout the 1890's Gallé won awards at international exhibitions and recognition through commissions and popular demand for his work. His techniques and style were copied by many other glassmakers who advertised their glass as "Gallé style".
He was a major influence on the Art Nouveau movement. The origin of the name Art Nouveau comes from an interior design gallery in Paris, called the Maison de l'Art Nouveau, which opened in 1895 and was an outlet for decorative creations by Emile Gallé as well as American artist Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), and French designer and architect Eugene Gaillard (1862-1933), and glass and jewelry designer Rene Lalique (1860-1945).
Emile Gallé died in 1904, while directing the work on new designs from his bed. After his death Mme Gallé, his widow, continued to run the glassworks and to make Gallé glass until the outbreak of war in 1914, marking all the glass sold by the works after his death with a star after the name Gallé.
Emile Galle's son in law, Paul Perdrizet, re-opened the Gallé glassworks after the war. With new workers and new designs, they focussed on two and three layer cameo glass with landscape and floral designs, made by acid-etching. These were popular for some years, but the company did not keep pace with the changes in style in the late twenties, and closed down in 1936.