In the 20th century, Swedish and Danish potteries produced both tableware and art pottery for their customers. In general, pieces produced in Sweden in the first half of the century have strong Art Nouveau and Art Deco influences, while Danish ceramics had a modernist aesthetic even before the Mid-century Modern movement took hold after World War II.
The largest ceramics factory in Sweden was Gustavsberg, whose leading designer at the end of the 19th and through the first half of the 20th centuries was Josef Ekberg. Early Ekberg vases featured floral and Art Nouveau decorations using the sgrafitto technique. Later pieces from the 1920s had less decoration but were often fired in iridescent glazes.
Ekberg’s protege, Wilhelm Kage, is known for his tall, geometric spindle vases, which sit on incised bases resembling small inverted flower pots. Even more modernist was the work of Berndt Friberg and Stig Lindberg, but Gustavsberg’s most recognized designer is undoubtedly Lisa Larson, who produced stoneware menageries of domestic, farm, and wild animals for the company from 1954 to 1980. Today, Larson and her assistants continue to make work from her studio.
The other major Swedish pottery was Rorstrand, whose stoneware from the 1940s and ’50s by Gunnar Nylund evolved from Art Deco-inspired pieces to the biomorphic sloped bowls and bulbous vases for which Rorstrand is so renowned. Another mid-century Rorstrand designer, Carl-Harry Stalhane pursued a more geometric look, producing vases in the 1950s that, in hindsight, resemble the shapes of NASA landing modules in the 1960s.
The tradition of art pottery in Denmark is even stronger. Factories such as Royal Copenhagen and Bing & Grondahl employed designers such as Axel Salto, who worked for both firms, although his “Budding” and gourd-shaped pieces from the 1930s at Royal Copenhagen are perhaps his best known. Nils Thorsson spent more than 60 years at Royal Copenhagen, designing the Marselis line in the 1950s for the factory’s parent company, Aluminia.
One of the most sought-after brands of Danish art pottery are the vases and bowls produced between 1930 and 1968 by Saxbo, which was founded by Nathalie Krebs. A former glaze chemist at Bing & Grondahl, Krebs relied on Eva Staehr-Nielsen to devise many of Saxbo’s elegant forms, which ranged from bottle vases to star-shape bowls. Leon Galetto was known for his cylinder vases with relief triangles on their sides, while Eric Rahr designed asymmetrical pieces.
Another Danish pottery pioneer was Arne Bang, who took a sculptural approach to his pieces. His vases were ribbed, pinched, and flared, and he would sometimes place the handles of organic-looking vessels in random places, giving what should have been a traditional piece an abstract aura. But one of the biggest magnets for Scandinavian ceramists, from Gunnar Nylund to Axel Bruehl, was Nymolle, which was known in the postwar years for its biomorphic vessels and vases, as well as its slender and tapered cylinders with harlequin glaze patterns and dramatic collared necks.