About the author: Ursula and Rainer Losch have been collecting glass for over forty years and for the past twenty or more of those years they have focussed on glass from Finland and from Venice. They are very selective collectors and have put together the world's most extensive and most important collection of works by Fulvio Bianconi, Venini and Tyra Lundgren. Their collections have been featured in exhibitions at major glass museums including for example the Corning Museum in US and European Museum of Modern Glass in Coberg, Germany. This article builds on Ursula's extensive knowledge of Venini glass.
The Venini Glass success story began in Murano, Venice in 1921, with the unlikely partnership of Giacomo Cappellin (1887 - 1968) an antiques dealer from Venice and Paolo Venini (1895 - 1959) a lawyer from Milan. They founded the glassworks MVM Cappellin & C. and brought fresh life to glass manufacturing in Murano. There was a third partner, - Andrea Rioda, a Murano glassworks owner, but he died before the new company opened.
Vittorio Zecchin (1878 - 1947, painter) was employed as Art Director. The glassworks produced simple designs in thinly blown glass (vetri soffiati), modeled upon 'old' designs. These designs contrasted with the over-elaborate output from other Murano glassworks at that time, and with increasing success, Murano glass became fashionable once more.
In 1925, Cappellin and Venini dissolved their partnership, and Cappellin - still with Zecchin as Art Director, continued the work of Cappellin & C. producing very high quality glass. The piece below, named "vaso lattimo aurato", was designed by Carlo Scarpa for Cappellin in 1929.
Paolo Venini founded his own company, - Venini & C., which he managed personally until his death in 1959. Napoleone Martinuzzi (1892 - 1997, sculptor) was Venini's new partner and Art Director. In the beginning, however, they continued making many items that had been designed by Vittorio Zecchin. You can find several designs, including the Veronese, the Bordone, the Caravaggio, and several others made by both Cappellin and Venini in those early years.
From 1925 to 1928 Venini's new company was developing its own new "identity". Today the name Venini is internationally recognized, and the high standards applied by Paulo Venini have paid off. In addition to directing the company, Paulo Venini designed his own shapes and patterns. From the 1930s into the 1950s, his design output increased in frequency. He took personal responsibility for quality control of the glassworks, and no design went into production without his approval. The picture below shows one of his early designs from 1934, vaso diamante. Several variations of this design are known.
In the late 1920s Paolo Venini's brother Franco joined the company as Chemistry Researcher. He created unique colors for Venini which competitors were unable to match.
Around 1928 Martinuzzi began to develop his own designs. The pieces he created for Venini are still considered masterpieces, especially his vetro pulegoso (bubble glass rendered opaque by millions of bubbles), pasta vitrea (glass paste) and incamiciato (double layered colored glass). The plants and animals that he produced by these techniques are fantastic. The vase below is "vaso costolatura verde" from 1927. In 1932 Martinuzzi decided to found his own glassworks, together with Vittorio Zecchin.
Thanks to Martinuzzi, the Venini Company had by this time established its identity as a company producing the highest quality elegant glass. During the 1930s the great artists who designed glass for Venini were Carlo Scarpa, Tommaso Buzzi, Paolo Venini himself, and Tyra Lundgren. It is sometimes difficult to attribute the 1930s work by Buzzi, Scarpa and Venini to the respective designers, because they worked closely together and many of the records were lost in a fire in 1972.
Tommaso Buzzi (1900 - 1981, architect) and Carlo Scarpa (1906 - 1978, architect) took over the Art Directorship of Venini & C. from Martinuzzi in 1932, but only one year later Buzzi ceased working for Venini. To attribute Buzzi's designs is difficult; they are few and now quite rare. He is known to have designed the Laguna and Alga series (incamiciato glass of 4 layers with gold foil) and some very unusual animals of pasta vitrea and filigrana glass. Shown below left, is "vaso alba" designed by Tommaso Buzzi in 1933. On the right is "vaso incamiciato" designed in 1933/4 by either Buzzi or Carlo Scarpa.
In contrast, Carlo Scarpa worked with Venini through ten years of fruitful collaboration. He designed many true Venini classics: wonderful patterns and shapes of highly sophisticated elegance. He was one of the very best Venini designers. Thanks to Carlo Scarpa many new and wonderful glass surfaces were invented, - battuto (hammered), molato (smoothened), inciso (incised), corroso (corroded), 'a murrine' (a new method for working with very small glass patches of canes or mini glass pieces); and new techniques like tessuto (lined and ribboned), pennelate (brushstroked) and sommerso a bollicine (submerged bubble glass) were amongst his many great designs. Carlo Scarpa also revived old techniques such as mezza-filigrana (half filigree) and lattimo (milk glass). Even today you will find Carlo Scarpa inspired designs being produced by the Venini company.
In 1938 Tyra Lundgren (1897 - 1979, designer) worked as a freelance designer for Venini and created several series incorporating birds, fishes and leaves. She returned later, in 1948, and designed manifold forms of the Calla. She was the first freelance artist at the Venini glass-works. Tyra designed the shapes but the surface patterns were designed by Carlo Scarpa (corroso, tessuto, battuto, mezza-filigrana etc.) as you can see in the picture below.
In the 1940s the creation of new series was interrupted by the war, especially between 1943 and 1946. The Venini Company was slow to recover from the war years.
Gio Ponti (Milan 1919-1979, architect and designer) was the first designer for Venini after the war. In 1946 he designed several series, among these the colourful a canne series (melting of thick glass canes) and his famous spiral bottles. His designs are rare and not well documented.
The very best time for Venini began in 1948, and lasted until approximately 1965. Countless wonderful artists created innumerable beautiful series. The 1950s were especially creative and productive years.
Unfortunately a fire in 1972 destroyed the company's records, and many series from these earlier periods are hard to attribute in full. This problem is further compounded by the similarity between some designs and the use of identical techniques by different artists - such as fasce (bands).
In 1948, Fulvio Bianconi (1915 - 1996, glass designer and caricaturist) began work at Venini's glassworks. Thanks to his outstanding creativity, Venini's postwar recovery was remarkable. Bianconi stayed connected to Venini until the 1990s, although he occasionally designed for other glassworks during this time, such as Cenedese, Mazzega, Vistosi, Galliano Ferro and under his own name. This way he was able to create his 'own' designs, by-passing Paolo Venini. Where Carlo Scarpa's designs epitomised classical elegance, Fulvio Bianconi represented exploding creativity! The very best 'Bianconi' years were 1948 - 1957.
There can be little doubt that Fulvio Bianconi IS the leading figure in the Venini 'cult'. This is especially evident in his fazzoletto (handkerchief vase) and the pezzato (patchwork). But his other works are also truly wonderful: scozzese (scottish), forato (hole), fasce (bands) for example. His unique pieces include his torsi, mermaids, commedia dell'Arte figurines, his clowns, his rete (net), etc.
The 1950s were also good years for Paolo Venini designs. He created many series and his pieces commanded very high prices. He had his own studio where his designs were prepared up to the production stage. In the 1950s these included his inciso (incised), murrina, mosaico zanfirico and his unbeatable mosaico tessuto. They are all rare and expensive collectors items today.
Riccardo Liccata (1929- , illustrator, painter, glass designer) worked freelance for Venini in 1956. He gave us the 'fascia murrina' series; wonderful vases of incalmo glass (where different glass forms are melted together) with murrina bands.
Massimo Vignelli (1931- , architect, industrial designer) began his collaboration with Venini in 1953. He is well known for his milkglass lamps with coloured bands (fasce). It seems possible that several of his designs are - wrongly - attributed to Fulvio Bianconi.
Tobia Scarpa, son of Carlo (1935 - , architect) designed for Venini from around 1958, but only for a short time. His occhi series (eyes) are one of Venini's classics. His series of battuto glass like the one shown in the center of the next picture below, are marvelous. It was Tobia Scarpa's hard luck to share his time at Venini with too many other good designers, and his remaking classical forms was not as spectacular as those produced by others. He may never reach the popularity of Fulvio Bianconi or Carlo Scarpa.
The end of the 1950s brought high inflation and high costs. Venini's production costs were consequently lowered through the adoption of more simplistic techniques, which the artists were required to incorporate in their designs. The era of the hand-blown 'industrial' series was born. This brought us very elegant and apparently simple workmanship, and because of this very plainness they remain 'classics' when others have been forgotten.
Ludovico Diaz de Santillana (1931 - 1989, architect) took over the Venini Company upon Paolo's death in 1959. He was married to Anna Venini, daughter of Paolo and Ginette Venini. De Santillana was also a designer, and both he and Anna were very concerned to preserve the special elegance of Venini glass.
Ludovico Diaz de Santillana's designs were in production around 1960, at the same time as Tobia Scarpa, and some series from that period are claimed for Ludovico, others for Tobia. Ludovico brought several Paulo Venini series to an end. In this author's opinion, Ludovico was not one of Venini's great designers. His "vasi coleti" are examples of less inspiring Venini pieces.
Thomas Stearns (1936 - ) first joined Venini in 1960 as an apprentice on a scholarship. He stayed on as a designer until the end of 1962. His ideas were considered unconventional by traditional glassworkers and he experienced a difficult time at the Venini glassworks. Anna Venini expressed the view that the designs he created in 1960/62 neglected the simple rules of good glass design. Nevertheless his series are popular today and extremely expensive, particularly in the U.S.A. The most expensive Venini designs are the Facciate di Venezia (sights from Venice), the Capello del Doge (hat of the doge) and incalmo vases by Stearns. The vase on the left of the picture below is an example of Stearn's vaso incalmo.
Ginette Venini, wife of Paolo and mother of Anna, herself created a series in 1965: the pioggia (rain) as shown on the right of the picture above. They are wonderful, and highly sought after by collectors. She derived her inspiration from the Finnish Marimekko and her vases are rare.
Toni Zuccheri (1937 - , architect) began his collaboration with Venini in 1964. He designed several series of animals, and beautiful vases of incalmo or incamiciato glass - like Troncho, Mexiko and Scolpito. His name is relatively unknown. This outstanding artist definitely played second fiddle, perhaps because there were too many new styles, or perhaps tastes had changed by the mid 1960s. Two of his vases are shown in the picture below, center and right.
Tapio Wirkkala (1915 - 1985, Designer) - the well known Finnish artist - was a special favorite of Anna Venini. In 1966 he created several series which for some reason did not receive much publicity; filigrana di Tapio, coreani and incalmo vases. He is the sole Venini artist to have had a special signature, - venini italia tw. Whether he demanded this of the Venini Company, or whether it was allowed because of his friendship with Anna we may never know.
An immense fire destroyed the offices of Venini in 1972, and unfortunately most of the Venini records were lost. This makes research difficult. In the 1970s there were very few new designs at the Venini glassworks, possibly because of the fire. They continued to produce existing series and revived some old ones, but the quality did not match earlier periods.
This 'slow' time ended around 1980, - and most significantly after the company was purchased by the Ferruzi Company in 1986.
From 1980 onwards many sophisticated artists designed for Venini, - including Laura and Alessandro Venini (Anna Venini's children). Laura is an especially wonderful designer. Other well-known names who designed one or more series for Venini were Dale Chihuly, Richard Marquis, Timo Sarpaneva, Alessandro Mendini, Toots Zynski, Ettore Sottsass and Gae Aulenti. These great free-lance glass artists are not so synonymous with the Venini glassworks as the artists of former times - like Scarpa and Bianconi.
It is a little known fact that today, the Carlsberg brewery owns Venini, as well as Orrefors, Holmegaard, Jensen Silver and Königlich Kopenhavn.
Fortunately, right from the start, Venini has always 'signed' all their work. There has never been any confusion on this count, and we are able to determine the age of most Venini glass (ignoring the fakes). The first signature - etched on two lines, was: venini murano. This was used from approximately 1925 to 1935. To this, Venini added a second stamp (approximately 1935 - 1948), to make a complete etched signature of 4 lines : venini/murano/made in/italy. A new stamp was used from approximately 1948 onwards: 3 lines, etched: venini/murano/italia. And between 1955 and 1960, a circular, etched style was adopted: venini murano. After 1965 Venini used a diamond needle to engrave the signature. They started with venini italia - on two lines, then wrote it upon a single line, and from 1971, the year was added. Nowadays you find Venini plus the year ('venini 90' for example) for the old - repeated - designs, with the inclusion of the artist's name for the new designs ('venini 91 a. mendini' for example).
One recurring problem for collectors is that Venini has repeated so many old designs since the 1970s. The beauty and quality of these designs has not always been maintained: the execution has been simplified and the results of a modern gas furnace do not compare too favorably with Venini's older, charcoal heating and bellows system.
For example; the vasi pezzati (patchwork vases) were designed in 1951 and are still in production today (2000). In the 1950s up to 1965 you find wonderfully warm colours - real freeform shapes - and the patches were quite different, - both large and small. No vase was exactly the same as any other. Today however, the colors are harder, the shapes are almost identical, and the patches are of a uniform size. The vase qualities inherent to the 'old' have not been maintained in the later output.
We recommend that collectors, especially new ones, should buy from reputed dealers/galleries, and ask for a certificate showing the date of production. The experienced collector/dealer is able to determine the decade of production by color, weight, style and signature.
The quality of Venini has been outstanding since the company's outset and they have exhibited at all of the major fairs, - such as the Biennale di Venezia and the Triennale di Milano. The company continues this tradition today, and it is still true that only the very best artists design for Venini.
If you are looking for Venini glass, you can usually find pieces on offer on ebay.
Click Venini Glass to see examples.
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