20th Century Art & Design

The 20th century department encompasses Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and 20th century design and fashion. Join us at our next 20th Century Design Auction in Surrey!

The roots of modern design can be found as far back as the 19th Century. The designs of Christopher Dresser which were revolutionary in the 1870's still looked fresh a century later. Modernism was a stripping away of unnecessary detail, a pairing down to the nuts and bolts. In pre war Germany the Bauhaus movement, produced steel cantilever chairs, Dutch designer Gerrit Rietveld's iconic Red/Blue and Zig Zag chairs were formed from plywood. In England, Gerald Summers designed for the company known as Makers of Simple Furniture, their name left no doubt as to the companies aims. The pioneer for plywood furniture was Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, look in any Ikea store catalogue today and you can detect echoes of his first designs. Functionalism was a rejection of pastiche in design, while other movements had elements of the past, these designs celebrated the future. Although the war years slowed down the evolution of design, by 1945 there was a wealth of new technology that had been developed in the preceding 6 years. There was also an excess of some materials and a dire shortage of others.

The British designer Ernest Race rose to this challenge pioneering the use of steel rod furniture, but also making use of the aluminium that had been used for aircraft production by re-smelting in his BA series. Robin Day designed furniture and textiles that fitted neatly into the smaller dwellings that were springing up in the post war years. In Britain perhaps the first real celebration of modern design was seen at the 1951 festival of Britain. There was a new mood amongst the young setting up home and a strong rejection of the traditional furniture that would have been used to furnish their parents homes. In America Charles and Ray Eames led the way with modern design that reflected the affluence and optimism of society. The Eames Aluminium group, Time Life Chair, and Tandem seating were embraced by corporate America and remain a byword for office style. Scandinavian design gained world wide recognition, Arne Jacobson, Hans Wegner, Poul Kjaerholm, Peter Hvidt and Ole Wanscher all produced designs in furniture that have stayed in production for many years. Danish design from the mid century has gained in popularity in recent years, sleek and simple and often light so it is easy to move and adaptable enough to fit in modern interiors. The Scandinavians were also at the helm of glass design by 1960's. Discerning British buyers furnished their homes with simple formed designs by not so simply named designers, Kaj Franck for Nuutajarvi, Nils Landberg and Sven Palmquist for Orrefors, Vicke Lindstrand for Kosta.   Murano in Italy produced high quality one off items, but also coloured glass in irregular shapes marketed for the masses. The British firm of James Powell, which became known as  Whitefriars produced a series of textured glass in totem, guitar, and phone shapes and perhaps the most popular a tower of offset cubes which became known as 'The Drunken Bricklayer'. Many British manufacturers of ceramics were slow to recognise the importance of design and continued in a pre-war frame of traditional transfer printed wares for much of the century. Those who did embrace good design are collected today. Midwinter was one such pottery producing tableware with designs by Terrance Conran and Hugh Casson and Jessie Tait. Poole Pottery produced brightly coloured abstract designs and the elegant freeform series. On the continent Arabia, Rosenthal, and Gustavsberg all produced design led ceramics the Swedish Designer Bjorn Wimblad produced designs for all three factories.    The iconic Arco lamp which could stretch across a room designed by Castiglioni for Flos, and the pedestal 'Legless' chair designed by Saarinen for Knoll both reflected not only the use of modern materials like fibreglass but also the notion of floating design. By the 60's the explosion in popular music was also evident in design,  Pop design was  irreverent, playful and fun. Its cultural references, new and not all ways in traditional good taste: a sofa based on Marilyn Monroe's lips another in the form of a hand. Boomerang desks, Egg chairs, even a chair that you could blow up.  This was designers saying, this is how far we can go. It is often an entry point for collectors today and a far cry from early 20th Century Industrial design, but it has not strayed so far off the path. It is all Modern.  Ewbanks hold regular sales of Modern Design in their 20th Century Design and Decorative Arts Auctions. Sales include Mid century modern, Danish design, screen prints, studio pottery, glass and ceramics.  Typical designer/makers will include: Ron Arad, Gae Aulenti, Baccarat, Marcel Breuer, Terrance Conran, Bernard Leach, Hans Coper. Piero Fornasetti, Verner Panton.

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