Axel Johann Salto - Design London Wednesday, April 26, 2017 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private collection, New York

  • Literature

    Axel Salto and Paul la Cour, Salto's Træsnit, Det Hoffensbergske Etablissement A/S, Copenhagen, January 1940, p. 19 for a woodblock print of 'Dafne forvandles til et Træ'

  • Catalogue Essay

    David Whiting

    The story of the nymph Daphne transforming into a laurel tree to escape the unwanted attentions of the god Apollo perfectly suited Axel Salto’s interest in animal and plant forms combining and transmogrifying with an unearthly energy. He had explored the Daphne theme in an abstracted and expressionist woodcut of 1939, and it fitted well with Salto’s interest in myth as a means of evoking the almost primeval power of the Northern landscape.

    Eros shot Apollo with a golden arrow, giving the god a passionate love for Daphne. Because she had been shot with a lead arrow by Eros, Daphne lost interest in love, and resisted his approaches. Apollo pursued Daphne relentlessly, but with Eros’s intervention, he caught up with her, and Daphne had to call upon the help of her father Peneios (or Ladon, in an Arcadian version of the myth) who promptly turned her into a laurel tree. To this tree the poor Apollo declared eternal love, wishing Daphne to remain evergreen, and so the laurel tree kept its green leaves. The narrative has been a popular theme in Western art, not only in Classical times, but from the Renaissance onwards, with artists such as Antonio del Pollaiolo and Lorenzo Bernini, each of whom explored the full dramatic import of this story.

    This piece was made in 1952. While other versions have variously been decorated in flowing oxblood and a more varied and descriptive colouration that clearly distinguished Daphne from her enveloping laurel, this piece is covered in rich and earthy rust Sung glazes often used by Salto. The effect is more abstract, Daphne merging with the tree into an amorphous whole, only the modelling differentiating her from the bursting foliage, a favourite Salto theme. The artist enjoys the chance to explore contrapposto in his modelling, Daphne softly twisting, almost languid, amidst the burgeoning laurel that shows Salto’s ‘budding’ idiom to full effect. Typically baroque in style, with those familiar overtones of Art Nouveau we know well in Salto's work, such pieces remained popular in the 1950s, when a sparer aesthetic in Scandinavian post-war art and design might have left such sculpture behind.

    Daphne is one of his most voluptuous pieces, the integration of form particularly successful. It is a synthesis completed by a particularly opulent surface. Salto renders the drama of Daphne’s transformation into something harmonious and classically elegant, but through which a sense of dark fertility and magic is still strongly felt.

    David Whiting


'Dafne forvandles til et Træ' (Daphne transforms into a tree) sculpture

Stoneware, flowing Sung glazes.
59 cm (23 1/4 in.) high
Produced by Royal Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Underside with Crown and ROYAL COPENHAGEN DENMARK stamp in green under the glaze and painted blue wave mark, incised into the body SALTO/20671/IA/095.

£30,000 - 40,000 

Sold for £37,500

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta e Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019


London Auction 27 April 2017