Reverse Painting on Glass

Reverse Painting on Glass
Pictures on glass from the Glass
Encyclopedia

reverse painting on glass
Chinese snuff bottle
with pictures painted
in reverse on the
inside of the glass.



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Reverse painting on glass


Reverse Painting on Glass: A short explanation

Paintings which have been reverse painted on glass have the picture or information painted on the back of the glass so that it can be seen the correct way round from the front and is protected by the glass. It is a technique that has been used for portrait and landscape paintings which were then framed, for advertisements often on mirrors, and for decorating the inside of bottles, like the little Chinese snuff bottle on the left. In the USA it was a popular technique for decorating glass lampshades.

Silhouette pictures on glass also have a picture hand painted or screen printed onto the reverse side of the glass, usually in black and in the form of a silhouette (see our page on Silhouettes - click here).

Paintings in reverse on the back of glass were popular as early as the 13th century in Venice and later in other parts of Europe. Haanstra reports that they were popular in Germany for portrait painting in the 19th century, and in Roumania for religious icons. Often the technique was used for decorating religious screens.

The Chinese have developed to a fine art the skills of painting on the inside of a bottle using very delicate brushes.

In the USA glass lampshades were painted on the inside so that the scene, whether a landscape, a pattern, or flowers, shows through from the outside. Lampshades like this were made from about 1910 onwards. They have the advantage that the outside can be cleaned without fear of damaging the picture.

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Butterfly wings were sometimes used for the backgrounds on reverse paintings, but this practice was banned in several parts of the world and it became fashionable to produce imitation butterfly wing backgrounds. The Reliance Company of Illinois specialised in this kind of imitation background, which they were at pains to explain was a hand-painted process, not real butterfly wings.

Their value today is higher if they have an undamaged picture and all the original features of frame, background, backing and hanging attachments. There is an enthusiastic collectors' market for these momentos of the past.


References and Sources:
Ryser Collection Reverse Paintings, 1992 Reverse Glass Painting 2010 Reverse Painting 2004 Silhouettes and Reverse Painting 2000 Paintings on Reverse 2008