A succession of talented artists has been employed as designers by the Swedish glass firm Orrefors, and the company has produced some of the 20th century's finest commercial art glass.


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Chatelaine's Antiques & Appraisals Magazine > Decorative Art > Orrefors Glass

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Orrefors Glass


 A succession of talented artists has been employed as designers by the Swedish glass firm Orrefors, and the company has produced some of the 20th century's finest commercial art glass.

 The Orrefors glassworks in Sweden was founded in 1898 to make utilitarian glass products. This it did until World War 1, when the Swedish government, in an attempt to improve industrial standards, encouraged factories to employ trained artists as designers. Orrefors accordingly took on two painters, Simon Gate and Edward Hald, to design new ranges of art glass.

 The two men had a real feel for the medium; their technical and artistic innovations led to the company dominating the field by the mid-1920s, specializing in boldly designed pieces in heavy, cased glass tinted with strong engraved motifs.

 A speciality was Graal glass, characterized by a thick, clear casing over coloured patterns and pictures. Both Gate and Hald used the medium. Gate's deeply engraved designs showed classical influences and fine detail, while Hald's were lighter and more whimsical.


 The two men were joined in 1929 by Vicke Lindstrand, a designer with a background in the modernist movement. To him, decoration was less important than the qualities inherent in the glass. Under Lindstrand's influence, Graal glass became heavier still, with even thicker casing. Some of the pieces he created in the 1930s were quite massive.

 Simon Gate died in 1945, the year after Hald retired, and a new generation of designers took over. One, Edvin Ohrstrom, pioneered Ariel glass. The design was sandblasted onto a piece of blown glass held on a pontil rod and known as a gather. The gather was then reheated and cased in another layer of glass, trapping bubbles of air that enhanced the engraved design.

 Another new designer, Nils Landberg, created Serpentine glass, while a third, Sven Palmqvist, produced opalescent Kantara and Selena and developed his interest in coloured glass with the Sang de Boeuf (Bulls' Blood) range and Ravenna glass. Palmqvist also contributed Kraka glass, which showed a fine mesh of coloured threads and tiny bubbles.

 One 1950s designer to look out for whose work is increasingly appreciated is Ingeborg Lundin, who was fascinated by the way glass could be moulded; she designed a range of elegant, thinly-blown tableware. Some of her work was surrealistic, such as a vase engraved with disembodied heads and feet. Her famous giant-size apple vase of 1957 was of very simple form, the pale yellow glass shading upwards to a dark green opening.


 Orrefors glass is now very collectable and the best pieces are likely to be found only at fine art auctions and quality antiques fairs, though many antiques dealers do not handle it because of its 20th-century origins. However, Scandinavian glass is still not recognized by many for what it is, and smaller pieces might be found fairly cheaply at local auctions, smaller antiques fairs or even car boot sales.


 Graal glass isn't difficult to identify. Because they were finished off in the furnace, pieces have a fluid look to them. Very big, thick pieces of Graal were probably made in the 1930s. Ariel glass has a bubbly look to it. At first, Ohrstrom used designs copied from Picasso drawings, then began to feature sea creatures and figures in underwater scenes well suited to the technique. Later patterns were abstract or simple stylized leaves.

 The various forms of opalescent Orrefors glass include Kantara, which is light with wavy edges, and Selena, which is thicker and much more organic in shape. Ravenna is a heavy glass, often ed, and inlaid with simple patterns. Some pieces have a decided resemblance to stained glass, and are inlaid with richly jewelled colours. Landberg's serpentine glass, made by laying spirals of coloured glass between thick walls of clear crystal, could be used to very delicate effect.


 Pieces from the Orrefors factory were often signed. The factory name, in script or capital letters, was engraved on the base of the piece, sometimes along with the designer's name, the design number and the type of glass. The date also appears on some pieces. Although this can he very helpful, the script often proves difficult to read; the inscriptions are invariably small and rather imperfectly done.

 Because of its clarity, any damage to Orrefors glass will show up clearly. Avoid any pieces that are cracked. Rim chips on a particularly fine piece are acceptable if it's something you particularly want, but generally speaking, any faults found should be reflected in a severe reduction in price.

Orrefors: A Century of Swedish Glassmaking
by Kerstin Wickman

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