Soffiato Glass

And Vittorio Zecchin

Scholars and collectors of 20th century Murano glass often point to the year 1921 and the formation of the Venini company as the beginning of modernism in Murano glass, a rebirth which would leave the messy aesthetic excesses of the 19th century behind and usher Venetian glass into the realm of the new. The young Venini company needed a special kind of artist to act as director and create a new style of glass which would reflect the spirit of the age. Founders Paolo Venini (a charismatic young lawyer from Milan) and Giacomo Cappellin (an experienced Venetian antiques dealer) chose visionary artist Vittorio Zecchin for the task.

Soffiato glass, thinly blown, transparent, gem-toned monochromatic glass, is so reduced that it expresses a direct relationship to drawing.

The body of work that Vittorio Zecchin created for Venini (and later MVM Cappellin) is subtle, nuanced and thoughtfully drawn; Soffiato glass, thinly blown, transparent, gem-toned monochromatic glass, is so reduced that it expresses a direct relationship to drawing. In fact, Venetian glass has always been informed by art—painting, drawing, sculpture and even graphic design. As a painter and textile designer Zecchin intuitively understood color, composition, perspective, movement, proportion, and harmony and disharmony of form. But the lines in his Soffiato glass belong to drawing and to essence. Zecchin was hired by Giacomo Cappellin and Paolo Venini to create exactly this—a series of glass vessels stripped of all adornment. Vessels inspired by those found in the paintings of Titian, Caravaggio and Veronese. Elegant forms which reference classical antiquity, but objects also dramatically modern in their reduced, streamlined simplicity. 

In the end, Vittorio Zecchin’s designs in Soffiato would come to define Venetian glass of the 1920s.

This was a surprisingly difficult task to achieve, one which required a subtle mind, clarity of vision, and the raw ability to draw a vessel with archetypical power in a few simple lines. The word Soffiato might also be translated as breath, which is particularly apt as it applies to Vittorio Zecchin’s work for Venini and Cappellin. The essence of glassblowing is the use of ones own breath to inflate the semi-fluid mass of the glowing liquid metal. The pieces that Zecchin drew for Venini seem as light as breath, even when executed at large scale. The idea of manipulating scale (from tiny to huge), of working in series (subtle variations and permutations in shape and form), and the addition of simple details (pairs of handles, lip wraps and delicately drawn feet), all add to the self-evident power of the technique. A few designs, like the Veronese vase, were taken directly from renaissance paintings. And while critics of the day considered these appropriations as nearly theft, they also recognized the elemental power of these objects and were ultimately seduced. Presented side by side with shapes like the Libellula (dragonfly), which demonstrate a high level of abstraction inspired by the natural world, Zecchin’s Soffiato glass objects appear equally ancient and modern and create a dynamic visual balance worthy of the title “new”. In the end, Vittorio Zecchin’s designs in Soffiato would come to define Venetian glass of the 1920s.

The Mark Isaacson
and Greg Nacozy Collection

The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy includes over two-hundred works from one of the most significant figures in mid-century collecting. Mark established the influential Fifty/50 gallery in New York in 1981 (later partnering with Mark McDonald and Ralph Cutler in 1983), which shaped the tastes and collecting habits of many and brought furniture, decorative arts and jewelry from the 1930s, 40s and 50s to the forefront of the market at a time when they were largely overlooked.

Greg Nacozy and Mark Isaacson in Venice, c. 1985 

Fifty/50’s and Mark’s legacy is most closely associated with bringing Italian art glass to the United States (Mark even advised the MET on their Italian glass collection) and raising the profile of mid-century furniture and American studio jewelry and ceramics; iconic examples of each are represented in this auction, including an early Rudder Stool by Isamu Noguchi, Charlotte Perriand’s and Pierre Jeanneret’s Bahut No. 2, a Gerrit Rietveld Zig-Zag chair, pottery by Edwin and Mary Scheier and Fausto Melotti, and Venini glassworks.

The most exciting aspects of this auction are the more intimate ones—the works from Mark's and Greg's personal collection that speak to Mark's eclectic taste, his boundless curiosity and sensitivity toward objects and art, and how generous he was in sharing his interests with others and letting them share with him. Standouts include several works by Robert Mapplethorpe—who was close friends with Mark, photographed several Fifty/50 catalogs and got many of the ceramics in his photographs from the gallery—the ecstatic wood construction Wild Plant by Leo Amino, a painting by Ralston Crawford of a spectacularly minimalist skyscraper façade, and photographic works by Man Ray, Edward Weston, Lynn Davis and Dorothea Lange.

Mark with Ed and Mary Scheier; Robert Mapplethorpe and Mark

This auction also features many works that tie together the thread of Mark’s collecting practices, going beyond the downtown New York sensibilities of the 1980s and showing the scope of eras and cultures that interested him; the sgraffito incisions on a 1940s Scheier vase echo the geometric features of a Senufo Kpeliye'e mask, the entrancing and complex shadows of a grain elevator in a photograph by Ralston Crawford contrast with the severe plainness of a New York City step-back building captured by Walker Evans, and the radical gestures of gay image making are seen in the works of George Platt Lynes, Paul Cadmus and Robert Loughlin. One of the artists in this sale, George Dureau, a photographer from New Orleans (where Greg is also from) who greatly influenced Mapplethorpe early in his career, perhaps best captures the spirit of this collection, saying about his own work:

“I live a warm, involved, humanist sort of life. There are lots of people passing through it. I have exciting experiences and learn things about people. They always go into my art. I cannot have an experience and it not go into my art.”
Mark and a friend at Brimfield; Mark's and Greg's apartment; Mark and Greg at The Armory Show

Fifty/50 gallery reshaped the collecting market during its twelve-year existence, closing in 1993 after Mark passed away from AIDS; his partner Greg has cared for the collection since.  The Collection of Mark Isaacson and Greg Nacozy offers an opportunity to see a short but impactful life lived through an enthusiasm for art and design, one that inspired many to see and appreciate objects and live with them as fully as Mark did.

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 publicly 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.

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Auction Results Vittorio Zecchin