Friday 18 June 2010

Marcel Breuer

In the third posting on the theme of architect/designer I am looking at Marcel Breuer. Marcel Lajos Breuer (21 May 1902 Pécs, Hungary – 1 July 1981 New York City), architect and furniture designer, was an influential Hungarian-born modernist of Jewish descent. One of the masters of Modernism, Breuer displayed interest in modular construction and simple forms.

Known to his friends and associates as Lajkó, Breuer studied and taught at the Bauhaus in the 1920s. The Bauhaus curriculum stressed the simultaneous education of its students in elements of visual art, craft and the technology of industrial production. Breuer was eventually appointed to a teaching position as head of the school's carpentry workshop. He later practiced in Berlin, designing houses and commercial spaces. In the 1920s and 1930s, Breuer pioneered the design of tubular steel furniture. Later in his career he would also turn his attention to the creation of innovative and experimental wooden furniture.

Wassily Chair

Perhaps the most widely-recognized of Breuer's early designs was the first bent tubular steel chair, later known as the Wassily Chair, designed in 1925 and was inspired, in part, by the curved tubular steel handlebars on Breuer's Adler bicycle. Despite the widespread popular belief that the chair was designed for painter Wassily Kandinsky, Breuer's colleague on the Bauhaus faculty, it was not; Kandinsky admired Breuer's finished chair design, and only then did Breuer make an additional copy for Kandinsky's use in his home. When the chair was re-released in the 1960s, it was designated "Wassily" by its Italian manufacturer, who had learned that Kandinsky had been the recipient of one of the earliest post-prototype units.

Plywood chair

In the 1930s, due to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Breuer relocated to London. While in London, Breuer was employed by Jack Pritchard at the Isokon company; one of the earliest introducers of modern design to the United Kingdom. Breuer designed his Long Chair as well as experimenting with bent and formed plywood.

Cesca chair 1928

Breuer eventually ended up in the United States. He taught at Harvard's architecture school, working with students such as Philip Johnson, Paul Rudolph and I.M.Pei who later became well-known U.S. architects. (At one point Johnson called Breuer "a peasant mannerist".) At the same time, Breuer worked with old friend and Bauhaus colleague Walter Gropius, also at Harvard, on the design of several houses in the Boston area.

Wolfson Trailer House, Pleasant Valley, N.Y.

Breuer dissolved his partnership with Gropius in May 1941 and established his own firm in New York. The 1953 commission for UNESCO headquarters in Paris was a turning point for Breuer: a return to Europe, a return to larger projects after years of only residential commissions, and the beginning of Breuer's adoption of concrete as his primary medium. He became known as one of the leading practitioners of Brutalism, with an increasingly curvy, sculptural, personal idiom. Windows were often set in soft, pillowy depressions rather than sharp, angular recesses. Many architects remarked at his ability to make concrete appear "soft".

UNESCO headquarters

Between 1963 and 1964, Breuer began work on what is perhaps his best-known project, the Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York City. He also established a Parisian office with the name "Marcel Breuer Architecte," from which he could better orchestrate his European projects.

Whitney Museum N.Y.

Armstrong Rubber Co. Headquarters, West Haven, Conn.

McMullen Beach House, Mantoloking, New Jersey.

1922 chair

1927 chair

c1970s Dining table

My rather saggy Cesca chair in my studio

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Per Lütken

Another famous Scandinavian glass maker was Per Lütken (1916-1998), a Danish glassmaker most famous for his works at Holmegaard Glass Factory ("Holmegaard Glasværk" in Danish).
Countess Henriette Danneskiold-Samsøe is the woman behind Holmegaard. The whole history of Holmegaard Glassworks started in 1823, when Count Christian Danneskiold-Samsøe petitioned the Danish king for permission to build a glassworks at Holmegaard Mose. But the count died that same year without receiving an answer. His widow decided to pursue the project when she received royal permission to build the glassworks after the death of her husband. The glassworks was sited in a bog because there was plenty of the fuel needed to achieve and maintain high temperatures in the glass furnaces.

In 1825 began the first production on Holmegaard. To begin with the glassworks only made green bottles, but Henriette also wanted to produce clear drinking glasses, which were the preserve of Bohemian glass makers.
The history of Holmegaard Glassworks is the story of a couple of small glass factories in a peat bog that, in the course of 175 years, became part of a large, modern group. During the 20th century artists entered the picture as designers for Holmegaard's glassware. This was the start of a long and proud tradition, with the result that some of Denmark's best artists are now associated with glass production at Holmegaard.


Lütken has, more than anyone else, set his signature on the history of Danish glassmaking, designing more than 3,000 pieces of glass for Holmegaard, for whom he worked from 1942 and until his death in 1998.


Amongst the best known series created by him are 'Ideelle', 'Skibsglas', 'No. 5', 'Selandia' and 'Charlotte Amalie', all of which are still selling at high prices throughout the World. They are all regarded as design icons, and are found in many Danish homes this day.

'Charlotte Amelie'

Lütken was famous for his range of  'biomorphic' bowls.
Ikea still sell a version today.

A vase

A glass ornament

A range of blue vases

1955 Holmegaard Blue Wave freeform bowl

1961 Holmegaard Greenland vases

1962 Fionia bowl

1967 Holmegaard Havanna vase

1968 Kastrup/Holmegaard Carnaby vases

Flamingo orchid vases

Holmegaard Bulge vase

Holmegaard Canada cordial glasses

Holmegaard Rondo blue vase

Two pieces of Per Lütken's 1960's glass from my own collection:
A blue biomorphic bowl and a vase.

Monday 14 June 2010

Sean Scully

I first met the painter Sean Scully in 1971 at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool where we both had pieces in the John Moores Exhibition, and subsequently met him a few times in London until he moved to New York in about 1975. A career move that has seen him become a world class artist with studios around the world and work in just about every major collection. Sean Scully was born in Dublin on 30 June 1945, a painter and printmaker of abstracts who has twice been named a Turner Prize nominee.

Scully was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1989 and 1993. He has exhibited widely in Europe and the United States, and is represented in the permanent collections of a number of museums and public galleries, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., The Art Institute of Chicago, the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, the National Gallery of Australia, the Tate Gallery, London, the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, and many other private and public collections worldwide. In 2006 Scully donated eight of his paintings to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, which opened an extension that year with a room dedicated to Scully's works. In 2005 to 2006, Scully's Wall of Light series was displayed at museums across the United States. The work originated in a trip Scully took to Mexico in 1983.

Scully's paintings are often made up of a number of panels and are abstract. Scully paints in oils, sometimes laying the paint on quite thickly to create textured surfaces. Today he is one of the most widely acclaimed and exhibited painters in the world. After a brief initial period of hard-edge painting Scully abandoned the masking tape while retaining his characteristic motif of the stripe.

For over a quarter of a century since he has developed and refined his own instantly recognisable style of heroic geometric abstraction. His paintings typically involve tough architectural constructions of abutting walls and panels of densely and lushly painted stripes.

Though he frequently works on a monumental scale, even on a more modest scale his paintings and works on paper exude a romantic gravity of an unmistakably urban rather than rural tenor. In recent years he has augmented his trademark stripes by also deploying a mode of compositional patterning more reminiscent of a checkerboard. He has stated that this style represents the way in which Ireland has moved towards a more chequered society. He stated in 2006, "I remember growing up in Ireland and everything being chequered, even the fields and the people."