In the 1950s, the American home came alive with vibrant colored decorative items, abstract art, and “futuristic” designed furniture. The colorless geometry of the 1930s was out.
Over the last decade, mid-century design has once again gained favor with interior decorators, magazines, shows, and stores dedicated solely to this period. The bold colors and free form shapes of mid century modern Italian glass are emblematic of 1950s design. This distinctive glass has become a sought after collectible.
Prices realized at auction for 1950s glass have seen a resurgence. However, there are still many items available that are readily available and not always at a premium.
Italian glass can be found in many American homes. In fact, it is likely that some of the familiar glass items you grew up with were produced in Italy. The candy dish on the coffee table with the bright colors, the ashtray with the gold flecks inside. Modern glass objects from Italy were among the most widely distributed examples of 1950s design. You might also have seen the glass clowns, birds and fish from Italy, popular souvenirs a few decades back.
As with any decorative art form, there are varying levels of achievement in the design and execution of glass from this period. Some pieces are clumsy and uninspired, some average, some good and some exceptional. While you should always buy what you love, as there is never a guarantee return on investment, buying the best representation of an item is wise. In considering modern Italian glass, several points make one piece stand above another.
Italy has a centuries-old tradition of glassmaking, an industry whose center is the group of islands known as Murano, in the lagoon of Venice. The most recognized and desirable Italian glass comes from three companies: Seguso, Venini and Barovier & Toso.
Italy offers a vast array of talented glass artists. In today’s market, top end collectors seem to favor Carlo Scarpa from Venini, Napoleone Martinuzzi (who worked at Venini from 1925-1932), and Dino Martens of Aureliano Toso. You can expect to pay several thousands of dollars for a fine piece by one of these artists.
For slimmer collecting budgets, good quality examples by other artists are available and more affordable. Alfredo Barbini and Fulvio Biaconi (for Venini) are two of them. While some of their work does command top dollar, many of their pieces are priced for the novice collector.
A few mid-century designs can still be found that should prove to be “sleepers” in the near future. Look for Inciso vases by Venini, Aborigeni pieces by Barovier & Toso, and Soffiati examples by Giacomo Cappellin. Each of these designs are totally different from the other, yet all are reasonable in price on today’s market.
Collectors should be aware that the most popular glass form is the vase, with glass sculpture following next in line. Popular sculptural forms include male or female nude figurals and pasta glass animals by Fulvio Biaconi.
Reproductions of the most famous forms of Italian glass are rampant. Some are marketed as such, while others are made to fool unsuspecting buyers. Also, and perhaps more confusing, many Italian glass designs are being produced to this day. The most common example of this is the Handkerchief vase. Originally produced by Piero Chiesa in 1937 for Fontana Arte, it was called the Paper Bag vase due to its crumpled shape. In the 1950s, Bianconi designed his own version for Venini. Since that time, generic manufacturers throughout Murano have produced countless unsigned imitations for the tourist trade. Almost all Venini handkerchief vases were signed, except for a few very valuable examples by Dino Martens.
Whether from the original manufacturer or another firm, Murano glass now being reproduced includes Sommerso designs, Barbini glass aquariums and bowls along with Oriente designs. Venini lamps have also been reproduced. No doubt, there will be more reproductions to come.
Murano Museum of Glass – Museo Vetrario
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