Innovative Individuals

Designing for the Modern Age

Our bi-annual Decorative Arts auctions are very much design led, beginning with the Aestheic movement in the 1860's right through to the 21st century.  Here, specialist Theo Burrell, chooses to take a closer look at four innovative designers and craftspeople from the 20th century Modernist period. 

Eileen Gray (1878-1976)

Eileen Gray (1878-1976) was one of the first women to be admitted to the Slade in 1898, where she took up painting before undergoing an apprenticeship in a London lacquer workshop. Upon moving to Paris in 1902 she gained further experience in lacquer work and cabinet making, quickly establishing herself as one of the leading designers of the lacquered screens and decorative panels key to Art Deco interiors.

In 1922 she opened her own gallery, Jean Désert, in Rue du Fauborg Saint Honoré as an outlet for her designs. In the following decades she became one of the leading exponents, alongside Le Corbusier and J.J.P. Oud, of revolutionary new theories of design and construction. Well to the fore of the group she exhibited chrome, steel tube and glass furniture in 1925 - the same year as Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer and well before Le Corbusier.

The Transat lounge chair, designed in 1927 for use on the terrace of Gray's house E1027 in the south of France, takes as its starting point the deckchairs of transatlantic steamship travel.

Thumbnail Illustration: Architect and designer Eileen Gray



Eileen Gray Transat Chair
black lacquered beech with adjustable back cushion and seat upholstered in black leather, nickel fittings
56cm wide, 80cm high, 74cm deep
£1,500-2,000 + fees



Lino Sabattini (b.1925)

As a child Lino Sabattini moved to a small village on the banks of Lake Como in Italy. He career in metalworking began early with a job in a local brass workshop at the age of 14, his years in the workshop gaining practical experience of materials and metalsmithing techniques were coupled with his discover of the famous design magazine Domus. Sabattini later served an informal apprenticeship with the refugee German ceramist, Roland Hettner, the artist who would inspire his interest in shapes derived from the behaviour of materials.

At the age of 30, Sabattini established a small workshop in Milan, a move that would eventually lead him to meet his idol Gio Ponti. Ponti was so impressed the young designer that he began to commission and exhibit his work, putting Sabattini on the international stage. Just a year later, in 1956, the prototype of the designer's 'Como' service created quite the sensation in the Paris exhibition 'Forme ed idee d'Italia'. From 1956–63, while still active in Milan he was the Director of Design for Christofle Orfèvrerie, Paris.

After Paris, Sabattini established his own award-winning manufactory in Bregnano, near Como, Italy. The high quality of his work alongside the individuality of his sculptural designs have made Sabattini one of the leading figures in Italian modernism.



Lino Sabattini Como Service
comprising a COFFEE POT, 22cm high; a TEA POT, 30.5cm long; a CREAMER, 12cm high; a SUGAR BOWL, 11cm wide;
and a SERVING TRAY, 48cm across, each with impressed maker's marks GALLIA/ FRANCE/ PROD. CHRISTOFLE (5)
£3,000-4,000 + fees



Alvar Aalto (1898-1976)

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer. The span of his career, from the 1920s to the 1970s, is reflected in the styles of his work, ranging from Nordic Classicism of the early work, to a rational International Style Modernism during the 1930s to a more organic modernist style from the 1940s onwards. What is typical for his entire career, however, is a concern for design as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art; whereby he – together with his first wife Aino Aalto – would design not just the building, but all within it, including the furniture, lighting, furnishings and glassware. His furniture designs are considered Scandinavian Modern, in the sense of a concern for materials, especially wood, and simplification but also technical experimentation, which led to him receiving patents for various manufacturing processes, such as bent wood.

In 1929 Aalto won a commission to design a new tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio, Southwest Finland. The building was completed in 1933, and soon after received international critical acclaim. It is now considered to be one of the most impressive buildings of the 20th century and has been nominated to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aalto and his wife Aino designed all of the sanatorium's furniture and interiors, including the Model 51 armchair.



Alvar Aalto Model 51
Lot 465 | ALVAR AALTO (1898-1976) FOR ARTEK
laminated and solid birch, part-ebonised, retains Finmar retailer's label (2)
55cm wide, 77cm high, 49cm deep
£2,000-3,000 + fees



Berndt Friberg (1899-1981)

Berndt Friberg is one of Sweden's most distinguished ceramic artists, recognised in particular for the depth of his glazes and the precise execution of his immaculate hand thrown forms. Known as the “Hand of God” amongst other potters and his circle of friends, a perfectionist who destroyed any work that did not meet his exacting standards.

He was particularly inspired by traditional Chinese and Japanese works, the glazes were where Friberg ended up excelling, he painstakingly applied these finishes to achieve great structure and depth.

Friberg was born in Höganäs to a family of potters and had been producing ceramic work from the age of 13. In 1944, Friberg was apprenticed as a thrower to Wilhelm Kåge and Stig Lindberg at Gustavsberg Potteries, two of the most prolific and renowned ceramists in Sweden.

Each one of Friberg's ceramic vessels was personally hand thrown and therefore unique. Inspired by traditional Chinese and Japanese works, Friberg's ceramics are also distinctive for the structure and depth achieved from the application of exquisite matte glazes - characterised by a "hare's fur" effect that manifests as delicate striations where the glaze is applied.

Friberg created his signature ceramics up until his death in 1981. His works were collected by King Carl Gustaf of Sweden, Yves Saint Laurent and Robert Mapplethorpe, and his works are featured in a multitude of prestigious public collections. The piece illustrated below is from the estate of textile designer Bernat Klein (1922-2014).



Gustavberg Vase by Berndt Friberg
of squat ovoid form with a tapered neck, the lower section with a hare's-fur glaze,
with an orange ring below the neck, incised maker's marks, 27cm high
£2,000-3,000 + fees





Dates for your Diary


Decorative Arts: Design since 1860 | 11 April 2018 | 11am
33 Broughton Place, Edinburgh, EH1 3RR


Viewing Times
08 April12 noon to 4pm | 09 & 10 April 10am to 5pm | Day of Sale from 9am


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