“Scandinavian Glass of the 20th Century” by Charles Hajdamach

June saw the welcome return of Charles Hajdamach who gave us a wonderfully illustrated lecture on 20th Century Scandinavian glass.  As one of the country’s leading authorities on glass, Charles founded and established the Broadfield House Glass Museum in Kingswinford in 1980, which has become one of the foremost glass museums of the world.

Scandinavian glass has emanated from factories in all four countries, some of which were established in the 18th century.  Initially the Norwegian and Swedish factories re-recreated British and other European styles and designs and this continued well into the 19th century when the influences of Emile Galle and others in the Art Nouveau movement became increasingly obvious with many derivative copies being produced.  Gradually many of the factories were forced to close as demand was weak, however the result was that some, particularly Orrefors and Kosta Boda in Sweden began to employ highly skilled and innovative  designers of their own and in doing so created the hotbed of contemporary design which resulted in Scandinavian glass became world renowned.

In 1916 and 1917 two artists, Simon Gate and Edvard Hald were employed by Orrefors.  While both were fine artists in their own right neither had any previous experience of working with glass but both became leaders in the field of design and Charles showed a number of fine examples of their work.  An interesting aside was that because the factories couldn’t get supplies of the ingredients for lead glass much of the output was in grey glass, another unique feature of Scandinavian glass.  Despite winning vast praise at the 1925 Paris Exposition for the scale of contemporary design the company couldn’t survive on the production of fine pieces and expanded into making commercial ranges, also designed by Gate and Hald.  The company continued to employ a stream of extraordinarily talented designers including Vicke Lindstrand who developed the inclusion of air bubbles, a technique known as Ariel, and Sven Palmquist who evolved a sand blasting technique during his 50 years with the company.  Evolution was the key to survival and the company moved into ‘pop-art’ in the 1960’s with mixed success.  Sadly even a 2011 a collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld was not enough and Orrefors finally closed for good in 2014.

Charles then showed some fine examples of the work emanating from Kosta Boda a company founded in 1742 to make window glass but still now continues the tradition of contemporary and innovative glass design having employed a number of designers from Orrefors.

Moving on to Finnish glass Charles focused on two factories; Littalia and Nuutajarvi.  Littalia founded in 1881 as a glassworks became prominent when Aino and Alvar Aalto were employed as designers in the 1939’s and started to produce wonderful vases.  Much later another of their artists, Tapio Wirkkala developed the technique of blowing glass into wooden moulds and examples were shown.  This technique was copied in the UK by Whitefriars.  The second factory, Nuutajarvi, was founded in 1793 and like the others quoted has survived by constantly evolving in both product and design.  While it now focuses on Finnish Art Glass such as the renowned birds by Oiva Tokka the factory has become a major tourist attraction.

Only one factory remains in Norway, Hadelands, specialising in novelty crystal items while in Denmark Holmegard and Kastrup continue to produce fine glass tableware.

Charles finished by encouraging the group to investigate the art work of Bertil Vallien who uses sand blast and cast glass techniques in his art.

“Paintings on Pottery in Italy” by Dinah Reynolds

We were delighted to welcome Dinah Reynolds to our group in Haywards Heath in May and enjoy the most vibrant and entertaining presentation.  Dinah is an accomplished lecturer and writer and an authority on British ceramics. She has worked for several years on the Ashmolean Museum Collection. Dinah’s lecture was entitled “Paintings on Pottery in Italy”.

There is some confusion surrounding Majolica which is the name that has been adopted for all objects that were traditionally ceramic, such as dishes, bowls, serving vessels, and jugs of all shapes and sizes that were decorated with coloured lead glazes.  While Maiolica is technically the refined, tin-glazed pottery with opaque white glaze which became popular during the Italian Renaissance. The process was also used as a medium for sculpture and sculptural relief.  Dinah showed many slides of Majolica Italian Renaissance painted pottery most of which can be seen in the Ashmolean Museum. It was explained that the paintings were not related to the actual use of the pottery as the shape determined the style of painting.

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The first example shown was of a 14t h century pharmacy jar or albarello from Tuscany. A type of majolica earthenware jar decorated with a woman falconer and a centaur.  These jars originally were designed to hold apothecary’s ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Middle East during the time of the Islamic conquests and during the Renaissance there began a rebirth and looking back for inspiration. The tin glazing process had emanated from near Cairo but had spread up through Sicily and Southern Spain.

Another extraordinary piece shown was decorated with a painting of Diana and Acteon and dates from 1495. The inscription translates as: By the water which thou hast cast upon me with thy hands I am made a stag and killed by my hounds. This magnificent dish is one of the world’s earliest and most remarkable majolica dishes depicting a story. In the centre the hunter, Acteon, is killed by his own hounds after being turned into a stag by the goddess Diana. Around the rim is the battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs. The myth of Diana and Acteon has been a popular theme for many paintings but interestingly during the Renaissance nudity could only be depicted when part of a religious story.

Dinah went on to show us many more fine 15th and 16th century examples including Hercules and Hydra by Guido Durantina, The Callumny of Apelles by Urbino. Retreat of Xerxes 1537 based on a woodcut by Girolamo ~Grandi 1533. St Luke by Guido di <Merlino 1543 . (St Luke is always depicted as a bull.) The Campaigns of Julius Caesar by Urbano 1561-1575 which on this particular piece has three pairs of moulded swans on the bottom. Departure of Pessaro which is the latest acquisition by the Ashmoleum and appears to be based on woodcut from the Italian version of Ovid’s Metamorphoses published in Venice in 1497. Dinah explained that artists were dependent upon these engravers and each painting had to tell a story as most people could not read.

Guiding us to the 18th century Dinah showed some of the work of the great painter of Siena, Maria Campoli.  The 1730 Adoration of Shepherds, Neptune in his Chariot of 1749 and finally “Truth Invented by Time” which it was explained is the Coat of Arms for the 1st Marquess of Rockingham and was acquired by the museum in 2007.

The Ashmoleun continues to collect both Majolica and Maiolica!