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Swedish Silver - Modern Developments

[Silver In The Middle Ages (circa 1050-1520)]  [The Renaissance (circa 1520-1650)]  [The Baroque (circa 1650-1700)]  [The Late Baroque (circa 1700-1720)]  [Period Of Fredrik I (circa 1720-1750)]  [The Rococo (circa 1750-1775)]  [The Gustavian Era (circa 1775-1810)]  [Empire (circa 1810-1830)]  [The Period Of Eclecticism (circa 1830-1895)]  [The Jugend Style Or L'Art Nouveau (circa 1895-1910)]  [Modern Developments]  [Silver Marks]  [More Articles On Silver] 

( Originally Published 1951 )

After the Baltic Exposition in 1914, Swedish silver became the object of much critical appraisal in the Swedish Society of Arts and Crafts. Although many individual objects were considered fine, it was pointed out that the large-scale production of everyday ware was on a very low level indeed. Industry, however, did not consider itself financially able to sponsor an artistic rejuvenation of low-priced goods. The Swedish Society then took the initiative and founded in 1915 a service bureau to make possible the collaboration of industry, artcraft, and artist.

These efforts bore fruit. At the Liljevalch Art Galleries in Stockholm in 1917, exhibits of glass, ceramics, and furniture had already improved artistically. Industry had begun to employ, or to consult, top-flight artists and to bring out new models under their guidance. Swedish glass, for example, won world-wide renown during the a gaos because of its beauty.

In silversmithing, no parallel can be drawn with the swift evolution in glass. Development went -slowly and without sensational news. Instead, artists, mainly architects, continually brought out new designs, and skilled silversmiths carried them out with traditional technical mastery.

Fine silver will always be in a class by itself, set apart by the very nature of the precious metal. The slogan va,ckrare vardagsvara, "more beautiful everyday ware," the watchword in glass and ceramics, can never be as aptly applied to silver.

However, more utility wares were made, and these were more often than not decorated in the Gustavian style with classic motifs. Similar patterns were made in sterling so that the difference between the pure metal and the substitute was not too obvious. A review of the silver of the last few decades becomes on the whole a consideration of certain outstanding, handmade pieces, made to order or perhaps to satisfy the artistic demands a silversmith placed on himself. Since about 1930 there has been a tendency to treat sterling and plate as separate mediums, each with an artistically developed form. Today it is possible to purchase relatively inexpensive, highquality silver in most shops in the large cities of Sweden.

The outstanding Swedish silversmith of the past century was Jacob Angman, who was connected with the Goldsmiths Company in Stockholm from 1907 until his death in 1945. A technical expert, he was also highly talented, and a recognized authority in the 1920S. In 1920 he collaborated with E. G. Asplund on the nowfamous baptismal font for the St. Petri Church in Malmo. The conical, fiat-bottomed bowl with its octagonal rim is decorated with small, low-relief figures. The naive picture language seems medieval, but design and execution are too individual to be imitative.

During the 1920s, Jacob Angman designed decorative as well as useful articles, related to the classicism of the times, but always distinguished by personal artistry. The Gustavian and Fredrik I eras, more than any others, were now drawn upon by artists. Some of Angman's coffee services appear late Gustavian. On the other hand, many smaller vases of gilded silver are original, as the graceful vase from 1923, and also Jonah and the Whale from 1929. During the 1930s he devoted himself to improving everyday ware. He usually avoided decoration and used only a few, restrained borders.

Other outstanding artists have been connected with the Goldsmiths Company during the last decades, including Maja-Lisa Ohlsson, Just Andersen, Folke Arstrom, and later, Ture Jerkeman and Sven-Arne Gillgren.

In 1920, Baron Erik Fleming founded his Atelier Borgila, outstanding today in Swedish silversmithing. Baron Fleming is expert in a!1 the technicalities of his craft, and his talent as a designer is evident in the Borgila models. Nearly all of these have been his own creations. While the Goldsmiths Company has been engaged in the large-scale production of sterling silver, silver plate, pewter and bronze wares, and also various art goods, Fleming has devoted himself exclusively to handmade silver.

Compared to Angman, Fleming has a more architectural style. A classic appreciation is apparent in such early pieces as the silver bowls designed in 1930. During the 1930s, Fleming turned to straight, angular forms, but when the effect became too severe, he added with unfailing assurance a gentle curve, a cover ornament, or a decorative monogram for contrast on a smooth surface.

The most important commission ever entrusted to a Swedish silversmith was undoubtedly the lavish gift of state for Prince Gustaf Adolf and Princess Sibylla (Plate 88). Designed by Fleming, it consists of a complete silver service for thirty-six persons. More than 800 pieces are included.

Aside from the distinction Fleming gives to all the pieces he designs, the Borgila silver is famous for its complete handcrafting. For example, a vase or urn is wrought all in one piece, from the base up. There is no soldering of parts, no imperfection.

Another distinguished artist in silver is Wiwen Nilsson of Lund, who succeeded his father in a shop founded in the eighteenth century. Since the beginning of the 1920s, Nilsson worked in a strictly geometric style, apparently inspired by the cubists, and perhaps to an extent by classic Romanesque forms. Basic forms are built around undecorated surfaces, which meet at sharp angles. Cylinders and semi-spheres occur frequently in his compositions. The most typical Nilsson design is the polyhedron, a low hexagonal vase, which looks like a truncated pyramid.

Less frequent are chalices and tall vases with gently rounded facets.

Even the unsymmetrical polyhedron has come into use, as in the design for an unusual pitcher. It can be compared to an equation with three known quantities-function, material, and technique. From these are determined the unknown quantity-form. The result causes admiration or shock, but the piece is never indifferently received.

It is obvious that this stark geometric style makes great demands both on the composition itself and the technical mastery of the designer. Those who accept the style at all must admit that Wiwen Nilsson has accomplished, as he himself expresses it, "a vitalization of the rhythmical play of proportions." Furthermore, his technical skill is undisputed, and without this, he would never have attained international reputation.

During the 1930s, Nilsson concentrated on jewelry, usually of silver with marcasite, moonstones, and black onyx. In this field he also expressed himself in the same simple way, and with astonishing results, but this branch of silvermaking is not within the scope of this book.

Since 1915 nearly all Stockholm silversmith companies have to an extent employed fine artists to create new designs. During the 1920s, Elis Bergh, Hakon Mhlberg, Nils Fougstedt, and Edvin Ollers were on the staff of C. G. Hallberg. Since 1930 Sylvia Stave has been employed by the firm. Bergh's services and decorative pieces have the sober elegance later seen in his Kosta glass. Hakon Ahlberg turned to more severe classic forms with single distinctive ornaments. Fougstedt preferred cylindrical forms, straight, smooth, and plain. Sylvia Stave's designs are assured and show real understanding of the medium. In serene forms she designs vases and bowls, and lets the gleaming surface remain unbroken and undecorated.

Another Stockholm firm, K. Anderson, has since 1933 been under the leadership of Helge Lindgren, who has designed both ornamental and useful articles. To produce new models in table silver, the firm has collaborated with several noted architects, among them Erik Ekeberg, Viking Goransson, and Hans Quiding.

The firm of W.A. Bolin employed artist Oscar Brandtberg, who has turned out somewhat heavy pieces of older style yet modern design. In 1935 the firm was commissioned to make a magnificent table service as a people's gift to the newly engaged Crown Prince and Princess Ingrid of Sweden. Henrik Bolin has also designed for the firm.

Other noted silversmiths include Karl Wojtech, who alone or in collaboration with Wolter Gahn and Anna Petrus, has made fine silver. During the 1920s he turned from classic dignity. His simplified and functional forms date from the 1930s- Sven Carlman belongs to the younger generation. His firm, C.F. Carlman, at first specialized in decorations and insignia of royal orders, but now produces silverware. Carlman's pieces, individually styled or made in collaboration with Per Skold, are functional and of good craftsmanship.

Finally there is John Farngren, who for three decades has been in charge of instruction in silversmithing at the Artcraft Institute in Stockholm. Many young silversmiths under his guidance have learned to respect an ancient craft and the fine traditions of the trade.

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