Artist Spotlight: Timo Sarpaneva
Timo Sarpaneva and the Golden Age of Finnish Design
During the 1930s, architect and designer Alvar Aalto became an art world sensation as he was the first to draw attention to the expressive, clean elegance of Finnish design. At this time, the Finnish economy was largely agrarian and a majority of the Finnish population relied on barter systems. This culture promoted technical acuity and an immense appreciation for finely-crafted objects. In the aftermath of World War II, large numbers of workers began to move from rural communities to town centers, bringing with them a vast multi-generational inheritance of craftsmanship. Coupled with this economic shift, “there was a great yearning for beauty after [years of] war and suffering,” noted Finnish designer Timo Sarpaneva. Thus set the stage for Finland’s ‘Golden Age’ of design which followed the war. In 1950, Iittala, Finland’s most prominent glass manufacturer, hired the young Sarpaneva to design their pieces. While he was a skilled artist in a variety of materials, Sarpaneva gravitated to glass because of its inherent transmission of light, a pinnacle of beauty in the harsh Nordic landscape. After much trial and error, Sarpaneva transformed the traditional ‘wet-stick’ glassmaking method. Where glass is typically blown to form a shape, Sarpaneva instead formed a steam bubble inside the molten glass. Through this process each piece was designed “from the inside out.” Sarpaneva then ventured to create “artistic yet functional” objects that Iittala’s influx of skilled workmen could mass produce for Finnish homes and workplaces. The earliest incarnations of Sarpaneva’s steam-blowing method included Iittala’s “Lansetti” and “Orchid” vases. When exhibited together at the Milan Triennial in 1954, these vase sculptures won Sarpaneva a Grand Prix. Later in 1954, House Beautiful also named his “Orchid” vase their “Most Beautiful Object of the Year.” Sarpaneva soon gained the adoring reputation of being one of Finland’s most important cultural ambassadors as his works boasted “all that was satisfyingly minimal and contemporary” in Nordic art. Iittala went on to receive numerous prestigious awards for Sarpaneva’s commanding forms, which had helped to define mid-century Finnish design.
“‘Lansetti II’ (Lancet II) Vase.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/56.31.3/.
“Scandinavian Glass.” Antiques Roadshow Collectibles, by Carol Prisant, Workman Publishing Company, 2003, p. 101.
Weideger, Paula. “The Golden Boy of Finland’s Golden Age of Design.” Introspective Magazine, 29 July 2018.
Lansetti I vase
Iittala, designed 1952
Model no. 3841
Retains etched signature “Timo Sarpaneva Iittala”
11.375″ x 6.75″ x 2″
Literature: The Nordic Modern Movement: Masterworks in Glass, Ceramics, Silver and Wood. Gansevoort Gallery exh. cat. 1998. 22.
February 17, 2019 Modern Art & Design Auction