three hundred years of collectable glass in one day

The Cambridge Glass Fair


Foyer Exhibition:
september 2011

Art of an Altered State: Czech glass design 1958-1992

We are privileged this September to host an exhibition of high-end Czech glass that has been put together by two of our most respected regular exhibitors, Nigel Benson and Danny Walker.

Vase by Pavel Hlava from the Hedgehog range.

Nigel has been collecting and dealing in Czech glass since the mid 1990's and Danny has amassed a superb collection over the last three years or so.

This exhibition sets out to draw attention to the incomparable output of high quality Art glass that was designed and produced in the State-run glass factories of Czechoslovakia during the late 1950’s through to the early1990’s. There will be a selection of pieces from most of the major producers operating at the time, as well as numerous examples of high quality studio work by some of the greatest names of twentieth century art glass, including Pavel Hlava, Stanislav Libensky and Rene Roubicek.

These designs are now often referred to as ‘Hi Sklo’, which translates as high glass.

Moreover, these were often the designs that influenced and acted as prototypes for the production wares that followed.

Whilst some of the items on view are unique pieces, most were part of limited series that would have been expensive to produce at the time. By definition, these are now rare items. These elegant and engaging objects illustrate perfectly the superior quality of the Czech glass that was being produced during this period. It’s little wonder the State utilised this work, not only for its value as a propaganda tool, but also as a much needed generator of foreign currency.

The influence of Czech design on the rest of the world has, in the past, been seriously underestimated. Previously, the two leading centres of post war glass design were always considered to be either Scandinavia or Italy. With the benefit of hindsight, the impact that Czech glass designers also had in the wider world is now undeniable. For example, the series of Mona Morales Schilt cut and polished items, that were designed for Kosta in the 1960's, can be directly attributable to her time spent working in Czechoslovakia. This exhibition has an earlier inception of this style illustrated with a sculptural piece by Frantisek Zemek, who designed a series of these wares for Moser in 1958.

A transparent green vase by Karel Wunsch with cut through opaque white flashing.

Other examples include the many organic pieces that were created in all three glass-making regions, each of which has a distinctive look. However, there is less formality in the shapes that were used by the Czechs, whose work exhibits both a greater variety of colour and tone whilst maintaining a more flamboyant consistency of form.

Inspired creation continued in other areas of Czech glass manufacture. Just as with its blown glass, Czech cut glass was rewarded at the time with many plaudits and international acclaim. Designers such as Zahour and Pravec were at the forefront of a revolution in glass cutting design that would eventually lead to a fundamental redefinition of the medium. The Czech enamelled glass of this period, however, was always in a distinct class of its own, being a direct manifestation of the artist designer’s decision to paint on glass instead of canvas. This allowed for a hitherto unheard of degree of abstract expressionism that managed to pass under the radar of an ever watchful and repressive State, dedicated to the artistic ideals of Socialist realism.

Given the scarcity of these items, along with the limited space available, this exhibition will only be able to present a selective representation of Czech glass from the major designers of this era.

Image of the foyer exhibition cabinets.

It will, however, be a unique opportunity to access the work of this period and hopefully illustrate how the human creative spirit can still thrive in an atmosphere of political oppression. It will also shine a light on the brief moment in history when the Art of the State became State of the Art.

exhibition highlights

• An early enamelled Stanislav Libensky vase.

• A trio of Pavel Hlava 'Jezek' or 'Hedgehog' vases.

• Vase designed by Vladimir Zahour that won the gold medal at the 1963 Leipzig trade fair.


Note: All images supplied by Nigel Benson & Danny Walker and Patrick Hogan.

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