“The joyous 1920s” was marked by conflicts and disparity. The modern techniques proceeded and actualized dreams – electricity, aircrafts, vehicles, and telephones – but classism and poverty influenced Europe after the First World War. It was as if there were dark shadows lingering behind every inviting, joyful exclamation: women in Sweden received the right to vote, simultaneously the freedom of the Sami was restricted in form of colonialism and forced relocation. The exhibition Swedish Grace at Nationalmuseum covers all these historic events with images and objects, which also brings out the good parts of the 20s, the brilliance expressed in art and culture.
Swedish Grace as a style was imprinted by playfulness and craftsmanship. A clean simplicity in shape is coexisting with balanced details seen in everyday products and objects. Motifs were often inspired by antiques and nature. This style influenced art, architecture, photography, and fashion but the glass created in Orrefors is what most of all can be associated with Swedish Grace.
The glass became a sought-after material amongst artists after the last turn of the century. The material challenged, perhaps because it required a certain unity between industrial techniques and traditional craftsmanship. It also allowed new artistic expressions at the same time.
When two artists, Edward Hald and Simon Gate, started working at Orrefors in 1920 the endless possibilities of glass provoked them, and they provoked each other. Advanced glass products, in mouth-blown and pressed glass, with or without engravings increased in production. The artists created the so called Graal-technique together with the crafts people at the glassworks. Colored glass could suddenly be etched and pressed into clear glass. Graal, as well as the delicate crystal glass technique, were perfectly suited for the ideals of the time, wanting to leave the 19th century overloaded and often heavy ornaments behind. Now large goblets and bowls were created instead, which despite their weight, almost seemed to float.
The impressive works of Hald and Gate are now shown in the exhibition at Nationalmuseum. Some of the famous goblets and bowls, which many has only seen in images, are shown here. These were exhibited in several countries in the 1920s, and awarded numerous prizes, such as at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1922 where Orrefors won three Grand Prix awards. It is truly an experience to now see these objects “for real” in the beautifully lit art installation. The greatness is still there. To understand how a perfection like this could be created in the glass is slightly mythical. The “Sky Globe” by Edward Hald is an example: A crystal clear globe standing on a base made of pewter, engraved with the twelve signs of the zodiac instead of continents and oceans. Other pieces by Hald, like his minimalistic “Balloon with Gondola” and the highly decorated bowl “Fireworks” – full of life and joy – amaze us still to this day. Hald and Gate also worked on projects for, among others, the “Swedish America Line” creating glass objects for the interiors of the Atlantic ships. Such examples are also shown in the exhibition which invites us to see the luxury and care provided for these objects, enjoyed by the passengers.
If the contradictory times of the 1920s were to be summed up in a single material, that material would be glass. Tough and fragile, sharp and soft, transparent and opaque. As a design movement, Swedish Grace is the foundation of the design which Sweden is still associated with today; a minimalistic simplicity which amplifies the material and the craft. Our own 21st century is not less contradictory than it was a hundred years ago. Orrefors can be appreciative of its history and continues to be relevant to both our time and for the future, likely for at least another century.
Written by Maria Lantz.