Murano Glass of the 1930s

During the 1930s, Murano glass underwent a dramatic transformation: from transparent to opaque, from lightweight and delicately drawn, to thick, massive and sculptural. This change in style and material can be traced back to 1925 when the Venini company split in two. Giacomo Cappellin and Vittorio Zecchin left to establish their own company, MVM Cappellin, while Paolo Venini was left to find a new artistic director. Venini hired the popular and well connected sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi, and this was the beginning of a new era. 

Between 1925 and 1928, both companies continued to produce Soffiato glass designed by Vittorio Zecchin. But Martinuzzi had his own ideas. In 1927, he developed Pulegoso glass, a thick, bubbly, semi-opaque material which allowed him to design glass objects with the mass and plasticity of sculpture. Fully aware of the artistic trends of the day, Martinuzzi used Pulegoso glass to produce large scale neoclassical vessels, innovative lighting, and a wide variety of idiosyncratic and whimsical sculptural objects based on plants, animals and the human form. 

What really distinguishes Murano glass made during the 1930s is the overall quality—even small companies produced glass of exceptional aesthetic and technical virtuosity.

The line of cactuses which he began in 1929 were especially popular and influential, and deep green Pulegoso glass proved to be the perfect medium to express the rough solidity of Cacti. Succulent plants themselves had become wildly popular during this period, and Martinuzzi took full advantage of this trend. At the Triennale of Monza in 1930, his plant forms and large neoclassical vessels stole the show, and immediately thereafter all the Murano companies began to produce their own versions of opaque glass objects. For the rest of the 1930s, thick, sculptural, opaque glass would become the norm, with Martinuzzi’s Pulegoso as an aesthetic point of reference and inspiration.

Martinuzzi would leave Venini in 1931 to start his own short lived company, Zecchin-Martinuzzi, which produced very high quality neoclassic inspired vessels and sculpture in variations of Pulegoso, Lattimo (milk) and Incamiciato (cased) glass. In keeping with this trend, some Murano companies made outright reproductions of Martinuzzi’s work, while others were influenced by his style and materials but developed their own distinct models and techniques. The young Seguso Company (Barovier Seguso Ferro) actually absorbed Zecchin-Martinuzzi when it fell on hard financial times in the mid 30s and continued to produce Martinuzzi’s designs. 

But what really distinguishes Murano glass made during the 1930s is the overall quality—even small companies produced glass of exceptional aesthetic and technical virtuosity. This seems counterintuitive considering the financial havoc created by the stock market crash of 1929 and the great depression. But Venice remained a playground for the rich and famous, and Murano glass became a treasured luxury item for the well-appointed modernist home. This accounts for both the quality and rarity of Murano glass during the 1930s, whether from Venini, Barovier, MVM Cappellin, Zecchin-Martinuzzi or Seguso, or from smaller firms such as S.A.I.A.R. Ferro Toso, S.A.L.I.R, I.V.A.M. and Fratelli Toso.

Flavio Poli 1900–1984

Born in Chioggia, Italy, Flavio Poli studied at the Istituto d'Arte di Venezia as a ceramicist. In 1929 he began working as a glass artist at the Industrie Vetraie Artistiche Murano or IVAM glass factory where he designed mostly sculptural pieces. In 1934 he joined the firm Barovier Seguso Ferro and became artistic director and a partner in the company after just three years. In the 1950s he began experimenting with Sommerso glass, a technique achieved by overlapping different layers of glass in a variety of colors and thicknesses. The resulting pieces received international recognition as superior examples of 20th century Murano art glass and Poli was awarded the Compasso d'Oro prize in 1954. At the height of his career, Poli won five Grand Prix awards at various Milan Triennales and his designs were exhibited in numerous editions of the Venice Biennale. Poli left Seguso in 1963 to form a division of the Società Veneziana di Conterie e Cristallerie. He died in Venice in 1984 and his works can be found in numerous public and private collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Murano Glass Museum, Venice and the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia.

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