Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Axel Salto Ceramics
Axel Salto ceramic vase for Royal Copenhagen.

Axel Salto ceramic vase for Royal Copenhagen.

Today, for each luxury house, the public can recall both the name of its brand and that of its celebrity designer. Think of Raf Simmons for Dior Couture (fashion), Paloma Picasso for Tiffany’s (jewelry design), or Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermès (perfume). This was not the case at the beginning of the 20th century. A time dedicated to social experiments (two world wars, rise of Marxism, creation of the Eastern Block in Europe etc.), it gave prominence to the organization rather than the individuals within it. The only exception to this rule applies to the individuals who created new products and associated their own name with their new aesthetic and consequently with that of a synonymous brand: Coco Chanel, Jean Elysée Puiforcat, Georg Jensen etc.

On the contrary, enterprises that had been set up long before the modern era continued their production with an emphasis on their brand and not their designers’ names. Royal Copenhagen is such a case. Founded in 1843 and dedicated to the production of porcelain for use by the nobility and the soon-rising middle class, Royal Copenhagen employed a series of craftsmen, artists, and designers in its quest to continue producing porcelain of the highest caliber and remain competitive against two other major forces in   European porcelain production, namely Sèvres (France) and Meissen (Germany).

Axel Salto (1889-1961) was a ceramicist who worked for the Royal Copenhagen and produced a body of work unique to the Danish enterprise. His work is known for its ferocious manipulation of shapes and its naturalistic tendencies. The power of his designs and the innovative techniques he used to manipulate clay and glaze resulted in shapes well-ahead of their times, a prequel perhaps to outlandish science fiction representations or a reminiscence of the natural environment that early 20th century urban life erased from man’s memory.

Salto’s work is gaining in value since the 1980s, after a seminal exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum organized by its curator David McFadden. “Scandinavian Modern Design: 1880 to 1980″ brought the public’s attention back to Salto’s work as early as in 1982. Since then, Salto’s creations are sought after by collectors of modern design and decorative arts and his name is often caught in the hype of astronomical prices realized at auctions in London and New York. Bernd Goeckler Antiques in New York’s West Village carries a few very sensual pieces by Salto.

In our era of clean aesthetics and modern sensibilities, Salto’s work speaks of the pleasures of alchemy, the intimate knowledge of firing techniques and the conviction that when forced, glaze will produce irregular rivulets and pools of incomparable beauty.  It also speaks of the powerful presence of the individual creator within an established luxury house, a trend we see gaining prominence today in the study of historic brands.

© Thomaï Serdari