January 8th, 2017
The exhibition “Paolo Venini’s furnace” is on at San Giorgio Maggiore Island until January 8th, 2017 with 300 wonderful glassworks on display. Not to be missed!
Paolo Venini’s alchemy of Muranese top quality tradition and innovative design gave new life and energy to glass making in the period between the two world wars and perhaps reached its most brilliant results in the 1950s.
It’s been 95 years since when the Milanese lawyer Paolo Venini and the Venetian antiques dealer Gaicomo Cappellin, two atypical figures in the close world of Murano glass factories, founded the Cappellin Venini & C, with Giovanni Seguso as master glass maker and local painter Vittorio Zecchin as artistic director.
Zecchin was required to design a collection of genuine Murano pieces in line with the new international trends of functionalism. Zecchin drew inspiration from the pure simple lines of the ancient blown glass objects
portrayed in the canvases by Paolo Veronese and by the other painters of the 16th century. The line he created obtained immediate national and international success, and other firms begun to follow the new vogue.
“Paolo Venini’s furnace” is quite informative about the history of modern glass style.
When Cappellin, Zecchin, and other partners left, in 1925, Paolo Venini (born in 1895), who so far had only taken care of the administration, had to start over again: with the sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi and the engineer Francesco Zecchin he founded Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Venini & C.
Martinuzzi worked with Venini until 1931, creating in particular the new ‘pulegoso’ glass (first presented at the 1928 Venice Biennale), with archaic shapes and a rough semiopaque surface dotted with tiny air bubbles. But the sculptor also designed memorable pieces with an opaque texture, blending classical design and innovative techniques.
Paolo Venini in the meantime devoted himself with energy and passion to the promotion of his glassworks, participating to events like the Biennali of Monza and establishing an important relationship with Giò Ponti, the famous architect and industrial designer (in 1927 they cofounded, together with others, the Labirinto project).
In 1932, probably due to the effects of the Wall Street crisis in 1929, Venini’s firm was put into liquidation, and once again partners separated. But Venini continued the business this time by himself, with some 30 employees, as Venini S.A.
“Paolo Venini’s furnace” focusses on the post-war years. During the 1932/1942 period two architects, Tomaso Buzzi and Carlo Scarpa were called to collaborate. While Buzzi’s presence in Murano was quite short and intermittent, however fruitful, Scarpa’s collaboration was to last for 15 years, up to 1947.
Buzzi was a leading exponent of the Novecento Milanese movement and also a member of the Labirinto group. A refined interior designer, worked for the most important Italian families of the time (Volpi, Cini and Visconti). Buzzi experimented with a new glass material, defined as ‘vetro incamiciato’, with several layers of color and gold leaf, giving life to a series of highly refined vases characterized by pure lines and pastel colors (collection ‘Alga e Laguna’).
Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa had a deep knowledge of glass as a material and an endless creativity. He established with Paolo Venini a very special relationship based of profound esteem, and was left free to experiment extensively, revisiting traditional techniques, such as filigree and murrine. He privileged elegant, often geometrical shapes, with an eye to oriental art.
Scarpa’s collections are world famous and timelessly beautiful:
I Sommersi, I Corrosi, I Tessuti, I Battuti, I Granulati, the new Murrine.
During this period Venini himself worked sometimes as a designer.
A word must be spent about the furnace itself: burning peat and and wood coal rather than charcoal, and obtaining a gas that was used to preheat the air in the twelve crucible oven (designed by engineer Franceschini), it was possible to limit the amount of ashes migrating from direct fire into the glass, obtaining a purer, less polluted material.
In the 1950s Venini was the first factory on the island to adopt methane gas, and this innovation permitted a new research about color. The pastel/bright tones obtained in these years became one of the factory brands.
Through the decades other important artists collaborated. The Swedish ceramist Tyra Lundgren helped the Venini enterprise to conquer the Northern European market. She created a series of birds, fish and leaf bowls in heavy translucent glass with a ‘corroso’ finish.
In 1948 the ironical works of Fulvio Bianconi, a young Paduan artist, are presented at the Biennale. Bianconi’s collaboration with Venini was to be very prolific and some of his creatures, like the ‘fazzoletto'(or ‘handkerchief’) vase were to become true icons of the Murano glass production. Unforgettable are also his patchwork vases (‘pezzati’) and the nowadays rare ‘scozzesi’.
Endless, volcanic creativity, sweeping sense of color, irony, are Bianconi’s peculiarities, and his contribution to Venini’s firm is certainly a milestone, as much as Carlo Scarpa’s classical elegance.
The 1950s were a magic moment also for Paolo Venini himself as a designer: masterly blending tradition and research in his own personal studio he gives life to high quality filigree and mosaico zanfirico pieces. His ‘inciso’ (incised) and mosaico tessuto (‘fabric’) are unbeatable and expensive collectors’ items today.
Designer Riccardo Licata worked free lance for Venini in the mid 1950s
contributing to the legend with his wonderful ‘incalmo’ vases, where two different blown glass pieces are joined together when still hot.
Other artists that collaborated with Venini in the 1950s where Gio’ Ponti Eugene Berman, Ken Scott, Lyn Tissot.
In 1954 a new Olivetti shop opened in New York on 5th Avenue, giving great fame to Venini, that works here at very innovative lighting installations.
In 1959 Paolo Venini died and the firm since then went through different ownerships. The traditional collaboration with international designers and artists continued in the same spirit of the past decades, starring names such as Tobia Scarpa, Massimo Vignelli Gae Aulenti, Thomas Stearns, Tapio Wirkkala.
In 1972 fire destroyed the Venini glassworks along Rio dei Vetrai in Murano. Documents, drawings and photos got lost forever, or at least this was what was thought.
But in 2011 by mere casualty, the archive was found , and this enabled the historian Marino Barovier to cast new light on the firm’s design and production, with particular attention to Paolo Venini’s collaboration with Carlo Scarpa.
Marino Barovier is also the curator of the present exhibition at San Giorgio Maggiore, opened every day except Wednesdays from 10 am to 7 pm, free admission. Until January 8th, 2017.
From ‘San Zaccaria‘ ACTV waterbus stop line no. 2 to ‘San Giorgio’, it takes appr. 3 minutes.