Axel Salto - Nordic Masters London Tuesday, September 20, 2016 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Axel Salto, 1931-1932
    Thence by descent to the present owner

  • Literature

    Axel Salto, Den Spirende Stil, Copenhagen, 1949, p. 72

  • Catalogue Essay

    This rare piece of glazed stoneware by Axel Salto is thought to be the first with the title ‘The Italian Bowl’. Dating from 1931-1932, the piece was produced whilst Salto was collaborating with ceramicist Natalie Krebs in her workshop (SAXBO Denmark); it later went into limited production, in differing glazes, with Royal Copenhagen, Denmark.

    Lulu Salto Stephensen

    Axel Salto
    by David Whiting

    The Danish artist Axel Salto (1889-1961) was one of the great sculptural potters and designers of the twentieth century. His highly individual, unusually baroque style resisted the plainer functionalist norm in so much contemporary Scandinavian ceramics and design, right through to his death at the beginning of the 1960s, when ‘Danish Modern’ was so in vogue. His powerfully expressive work was inspired by natural forms, by gourd shapes and seed pods, buds and opulent fruits bursting forth, all expressing a sense of growth and movement. It was nature's inner force that intrigued him. As he stated: “It is of greater importance for an artist to create in the spirit of nature than reproduce its outer manifestation”. His work, certainly ahead of its time in the inter-war years, investigated an almost unearthly and preternatural world, and anticipated some of the sculptural developments in European and American ceramics from the late 1950s, work which moved away from traditional shapes to vessels and sculpture that explored new types of organic structure. The originality of his work is all the more remarkable because it was produced largely in small factory-made editions, showing just how open the Danish workshops could be to progressive artistic ideas.

    Salto studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen from 1909-1914, before travelling to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, conversations which confirmed Salto’s avant-garde ambitions in art, realised not only in ceramics, but in painting, graphic design and illustration. He soon returned to work in Paris for long periods, and formed a group based there with other experimental Danish artists. Salto also established a short-lived but influential art journal The Blade, which was to pioneer the discussion of Modernist art and theory in Northern Europe. His practice of a variety of different art forms epitomised the interdisciplinary character of Scandinavian art and design, as well as its active collaboration with the factories. In the early 1920s Salto was beginning to concentrate on ceramics, his new direction confirmed by success with pieces made at Bing and Grondahl which were exhibited at the 1925 Paris Fair, and for which he was awarded a silver medal. By the beginning of the 1930s Salto was working in stoneware with Carl Halier and Saxbo. He also began his major collaboration in stoneware with the Royal Porcelain Manufactory in Copenhagen, one that would last for the rest of his life. Salto achieved numerous further honours, including the Eckersberg Medal in 1938, the Grand Prix at the Milan Triennial in 1951 and the Prince Eugen Medal in 1959.

    Salto’s production concentrated mainly on mould-made editions with bravura modelling, enlivened by rich opulent glazing that varied in colour and texture as it poured and gathered over the deep relief surfaces. These two important and rare pieces belonged to Salto’s own family, particularly strong forms sprouting and burgeoning with plant growth. This particular example of his ‘Italian Bowl’ (‘Den Italienske Skaal’) is thought to be the original, made in the Saxbo workshop in 1931-1932, while later ones were produced by Royal Copehagen in other glazes. The ‘Summer Vase’ (‘Sommervase’) was first produced by Royal Copenhagen in 1931, but this particular piece was made in 1957, and presented by Salto to his daughter Naja Salto, the distinguished artist, as a gift for her 14th birthday in 1959. He was particularly pleased with this example, and evidently wanted to keep it in the family. Both forms have luxurious dark blue glazes, that on the ‘Summer Vase’ breaking through to a deep underlying iron. These pieces are full of energy and sensuality, expressing well the stylistic connection to Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, and even Classical form in Salto’s earlier designs, but already with a unique boldness that showed Scandinavian art at its most elemental and disquieting, truly work of the dark Northern spirit.

Property from the Salto Family Collection


Unique and important 'Den Italienske Skaal' large bowl

Stoneware, blue glaze.
26.4 cm (10 3/8 in.) high, 41.8 cm (16 1/2 in.) diameter
Produced by Saxbo, Copenhagen, Denmark. Underside with producer's seal, DANMARK and SALTO.

£50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for £62,500

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

Nordic Masters

London Auction 21 September 2016