WILHELM KÅGE (1889-1960)
Wilhelm Kåge is an icon of the Swedish ceramic design of the 20th century. He was the artistic leader for Gustavsberg in the 1930s and 1940s and is often called the father of Swedish modernism. Kåge is represented at the Swedish National Museum of Art and Design.
Wilhelm Kåge was born and raised in the Swedish capital of Stockholm. He studied drawing at the University College of Arts, Crafts, and Design in Stockholm. He continued his studies in Munich, perfecting his skills as an illustrator. During WWI, he gained notoriety in Sweden for his colorful posters for theaters, lotteries, and exhibitions.
Wilhelm’s poster art attracted the attention of the Gustavsberg porcelain factory. The factory was hoping to revive interest in its production, sought out artists with new ideas. Wilhelm accepted the offer, despite his lack of experience in clay, throwing, and glazing. His task was to add an artistic touch to the factory’s functional items.
Within a year, Wilhelm Kåge had created the functional service series, "Liljebla" (Lily Blue). The forms, with their flowing blue decor, were simple yet reminiscent of 18th century Swedish ceramics. The tableware series was a success at the Liljevalchs Exhibition in 1917, which is noted as the birthplace of the modern Swedish art industry. It was the first time artists and industries came together to create beautiful yet practical home decor. After the exhibition, Wilhelm was appointed artistic leader for Gustavsberg.
In the 1920s, Wilhelm created the Argenta series which was popularized at the Stockholm Exhibition of 1930. The series consisted of crocks, bowls, and vases adorned with a characteristic green glaze and demonstrate classic "art deco" decorative motifs. The objects are festooned with silver patterns of dragons, flowers, and dancing women. Argenta was first manufactured in flint but later manufactured in stoneware.
Wilhelm Kåge’s Farsta set comprises his most his most exclusive pottery artwork. It was first presented at the groundbreaking Stockholm Exhibition of 1930, where Swedish artists, craftsmen and companies showed their latest products. The handmade Farsta pieces—totally unique in both their shape and glaze, were then crafted until the 1950s in the Gustavsberg studio.
The stoneware clay for the artwork was collected from the Farsta bay close to the Gustavsberg factory. The objects were therefor incised with “Farsta”. The width of the pieces is striking – ranging from miniature to large-scale. There are vases and urns, sculptures, ashtrays, and half-meter high pieces. The Wilhelm Kåge Farsta objects all share a discernible presence and aura of quality.
The fired Farsta pieces were dipped in a bath of metal oxides which were drawn into the clay. The pieces were re-glazed and fired again. The oxides were drawn out by the heat to lend the glaze a layered texture with magnificent color effects.
During the late 1930s, Wilhelm was impressed with a young adept, Stig Lindberg. The young prodigy had quickly distinguished himself at Gustavsberg by displaying magnificent drawing technique and a wealth of fresh ideas. Wilhelm opened the door to a more prominent role in the factory, while offering Stig greater artistic freedom.
Wilhelm and Stig collaborated to develop diverse, extensive faience production through the late 1930s and early 1940s. The vases, dishes, and bowls were formed from reddish earthenware, coated with a milky-white glaze and hand-painted with bold colors and elaborate decor. The floral motifs of the 1940s slowly gave way to era-typical geometrical decor in the 1950s and 1960s. The faience series was a huge success and is still one of the most well-known symbols of Swedish mid-century design.
Wilhelm Kåge initiated the Gustavsberg studio at Gustavberg in 1942, which would become the creative hub of the ceramic factory. The premium pieces were marked with the Gustavsberg studio hand in different colors.
In 1949, Wilhelm relinquished his role as artistic director to his colleague, Stig Lindberg. He however continued his studio work at Gustavberg until his death in 1960. He is remembered as Gustavberg’s ceramic king, who for more than 40 years, guided the factory through the shifting tides and style trends.
courtesy of Mother Sweden