Vittorio Zecchin and Franz Pelzel at S.A.L.I.R.

Artist and Engraver

This unique, highly carved and polished vase was designed and executed at the S.A.L.I.R. company for the Venice Biennale of 1932 and is the result of a collaboration between artist and designer Vittorio Zecchin and master engraver Franz Pelzel.

A period photo of the present lot from the S.A.L.I.R. archive. (Photograph courtesy of Marino Barovier)

This vase is exceptional for several reasons. First, Murano glass is not generally known for highly carved surface decoration. Next, this vase is a unique example, which is exceedingly rare as Murano glass pieces were usually made as multiples or in series. Finally, this vase can be said to represent the influence of three significant art glass traditions—Bohemian, Swedish and Muranese. And all of this can only be understood in light of the history of S.A.L.I.R., perhaps the most unique and specific of all Murano glass workshops in the 20th century.

Founded in 1921, the company became a true force in 1927 when master engravers Guido Balsalmo Stella and Franz Pelzel joined the firm. Stella was an engraver from Turin who had trained extensively in Central Europe. He developed an interest in glass carving after several visits to Sweden where he admired Orrefors glass. In 1914 he married Swedish painter and textile designer Anna Akerdhal who became a long time artistic collaborator. In 1921, Stella invited the Bohemian designer and master engraver Franz Pelzel to join him in Florence where they established a workshop. In 1925 they relocated to the Giudecca in Venice, and in 1927 they joined the S.A.L.I.R. firm. It was during this period of the late 1920s and early 1930s when Vittorio Zecchin first began to work with the two engravers at S.A.L.I.R. and helped create a new trend in Murano glass.

Initially, the work of Stella and Pelzel met with opposition as carving was not part of the Murano glass oeuvre. Soon however the Neo-Classical, Futurist, Art Deco imagery that the two were expertly engraving on reduced Muranese vessels became wildly popular with the public and critics alike.

A drawing by Vittorio Zecchin of the engraved fish motif. (Photograph courtesy of Marino Barovier)

The fish motif on this vase was designed by Vittorio Zecchin. It was a theme that he employed on furniture, unique lace-work and ceramics. Both deco and expressionist, his design is a skillful modern reference to traditional Venetian depictions of aquatic life. The arched shapes of the fish and their all-over placement create an underwater scene filled with dynamic tension. The complex carving and even more intensive polishing represent hundreds of man-hours of labor by Franz Pelzel and may in fact be one of his greatest achievements.

Today, the glass produced at S.A.L.I.R. during the 20th century represents a unique and important aspect of Murano glass history, and the piece presented here is perhaps one of its greatest examples.

Vittorio Zecchin 1878-1947

Born the son of a Murano glassblower, Vittorio Zecchin would go on to become one of the most influential Venetian artists and designers of the 20th century. Initially working as a painter in the Italian Liberty (Art Nouveau) style, Zecchin’s sensitivity to international art, combined with his love for traditional Venetian craftsmanship and design, would have a lasting influence on 20th century art-glass in Venice and beyond.

After graduating from the Venetian Academy of Fine Arts in 1901, Zecchin initially decided against a career as an artist, believing that the conservative Venetian establishment would not understand or accept his work. Instead he became civil servant in Murano and did not publically exhibit his paintings until 1908, when a number of young Venetian artists had formed the Ca’ Pessaro group. Zecchin joined the group and by 1914 he had become one of its most influential members.

Zecchin first designed art glass in collaboration with fellow painter Teodoro Wolf-Ferrari in 1913. These Vetro Mosaico vases and plaques were executed in a style influenced by Viennese Secessionism and were exhibited at the Biennale of 1914 and where they were met with great critical success. Today these works are considered masterpieces of early modern design.

In 1916 Zecchin established a workshop on the island of Murano for the production of artistic tapestries. In 1921, he was hired as artistic director of the newly established Venini Cappellin company and designed what many consider to be the first truly modern glass works produced on Murano, including the famous Veronese Vase which is still used as the symbol of the company today.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Zecchin, designed and produced furniture, jewelry, ceramics, tapestries, silverware, mosaics and glass, all of which were exhibited at the Venice Biennale and the Triennale of Monza. Zecchin also continued to evolve as a painter and completed numerous large scale works in oil and tempera during this period.

By the end of the 1930s, Zecchin had contributed a number of significant designs to important Murano glass companies including MVM Cappellin, Artistica Barovier, A.V.E.M. and S.A.L.I.R. A galvanizing figure in 20th century Murano glass, Zecchin’s influence can still be felt today.