Orrefors Glass

Orrefors Glass

Orrefors Swedish glass Ariel vase
Orrefors Glass: Ariel vase with unicorns, moons and stars

One hundred years of Swedish creativity

author: William L. Geary (Professional Art Glass Appraiser, author, and collector)

When Orrefors glass first came into existence (1898) it was part of an iron works which had been in operation since 1726 in Smaland, south east Sweden. The name Orrefors seems to be a combination of "Orra" from the nearby Orranas lake, and "fors" from the rapids where the ironworks originally stood. This name has come to be synonymous with exquisitely designed and executed crystal by internationally known artists. It signifies an important institution within Swedish cultural history.

In its early years the Orrefors glassworks supplemented the ironworks, and made cheap table-ware and bottles; but when Johan Ekman bought the company in 1913 he closed the ironworks and aimed the company towards higher quality glass. They started manufacturing crystal glass in 1914, using designs purchased from English glassworks for cut and polished decoration. These designs did not reflect the aesthetics of Swedish culture, nor the current trends in other European countries. Shortly afterwards Orrefors hired artists to create "beautiful things for everyday life".

The artist Simon Gate was hired in 1916, and in 1917 another painter, Edward Hald, who had trained with Matisse, joined the Orrefors team. Working with the master glassblower Knut Bergkvist, who had joined the company in 1913, Simon Gate created a new technique of glass design which was called Graal.

Above: Vase in the Graal technique
designed by Eva Englund, Orrefors, 1992,
entitled "Breathtaking"

Orrefors glass plate in Graal technique

Orrefors Glass: Graal plate by Eva Englund,
circa 1990, entitled "Duality"

Basically the Graal technique is multiple layered cameo glass with a casing of clear crystal. It was inspired by an exhibition of Galle glass shown in the NK Department store. It proved highly successful and is still made today.

Making a Graal vase involves taking a blank and overlaying this wish several colors of hot glass. It is then placed in an annealer and allowed to cool down over a period of time. The artist's design is then cut into the blank through the various layers of color, creating patterns on the blank just as in cameo work. The blank is then reheated and an outer layer of crystal is gathered over the blank. The master glassblower then blows the vessel into its final shape.

Edward Hald and Simon Gate designed glassware for everyday use which captured a new essence of beauty in glass. A copper wheel engraver, Gustaf Abels, was employed to translate Hald and Gate's designs onto clear crystal glass. Their art glass featured a series of nudes, some modestly draped, that represented a radical departure from traditional motifs of fish, flowers, and insects which were in vogue at the time.

This new development put Orrefors onto the international scene. Their designs and craftsmanship were acknowledged with numerous awards at the Paris Exposition of 1925.

Orrefors Glass: Engraved crystal bowl and plate by Simon Gate, circa 1920.

Orrefors glass bowl and plate by Gate

The subsequent Stockholm Exhibition, where functionalism stole the show, caused changes at Orrefors. The artists no longer used the entire form to present an idea or motif. The body of the glass was thick, often standing on a black foot with an engraved design on one side of the form.

Copper wheel engraved Orrefors glass

Above: Copper wheel engraved vase by Simon Gate, 1930's
Vicke Lindstrand vase 1930's

Above: Copper wheel engraved vase by Vicke Lindstrand, 1930's

In 1928 Vicke Lindstrand, another visual artist, made his debut at the Stockholm Exhibition with a range of enameled vases, bowls and other pieces which are sought after by collectors today.

New techniques were developed towards the end of the 1930's, most notably "fish Graal", "slip Graal", and "Ariel".

Fish Graal with its motifs of fish and seaweed were a great commercial success and remained in production until 1987.

Slip Graal was created by having the blanks cut with stone wheels creating geometric patterns.

Edvin Orhstrom joined the firm in 1936, and he, along with Vicke Lindstrand, developed the technique called "Ariel". The vase at the top of this page is an example of an "Ariel" vase.

With this technique, the design is cut into the multi-layered blank to a depth in excess of 5mm. When this blank is overlayed with a clear bubble of molten crystal, air is trapped in the cut sections of the design. This gives a illusion of silver in the glass, as light is reflected off these inner surfaces.

Graal vase by Eva Englund

Above: Graal vase "Bread of Life" by
Eva Englund, circa 1990

Graal bottle "Zig Zag" by Englund
Nils Landberg and Sven Palmqvist, two engravers who worked in the drawing office at the factory, were promoted to the position of designers.

Sven Palmqvist became one of the great innovators of Swedish glass. He invented several highly successful new techniques, including: centrifuge, kraka, and ravenna.

Nils Landberg created the elegant "Tulip" vases with their long stems which tax the abilities of the master glass blowers.

Left: Graal sculptural bottle "Zig Zag" by Eva Englund, 1991

The name Graal comes from the Holy Grail, and the very first Graal glass was designed by Simon Gate in 1916. It can be seen in the Orrefors Museum.
The first woman glass artist at Orrefors, Ingborg Lundin, joined the firm in the 1950's. She brought a new sensitivity to glass design. Her large "Apple" has become the signature for Swedish glass design in the 1950's.

Gunnar Cyren, a silversmith, joined the company in 1959. His design for the "Pop Glass" become the epitome of glass design in the swinging sixties. In later years, his combinations of silver and crystal are master pieces of artistic achievement.

The picture on the right is a "Pop Glass" designed by Gunner Cyren in the 1960's.

Pop glass by Bunnar Cyren
In the latter part of the 1970's the Graal technique enjoyed a new popularity. Eva Englund joined Orrefors and was trained in the technique by Edward Hald. Eva brought a new concept to art glass by incorporating her dreams into the images captured in the glass forms.

The master glass blowers took the overlay technique to new heights by putting eight colors onto the blanks. The engravers, cutting through the various layers, were able to capture Eva's images - like paintings within the glass.

Her work was so popular that one exhibition with over 50 items at the NK Department store in Stockholm sold out in the first two minutes.

On the right, Flacon II by Eva Englund using the Graal technique, 1993
Englund flacon in graal

Other artists at Orrefors were exploring new ideas and concepts in glass. Olle Alberius worked with the Ariel technique (one of his Ariel vases is shown at the top of this page) creating designs of clouds and sea motifs.
He also designed the "Peoples Choice" award presented annually on American television.

The Figure by Edvin Ohrstrom

Lars Hellsten perfected the use of the centrifuge to create classical designs in glass which continue to sell around the world.

Jan Johansson creates wonderful sculptures using simple lines and forms. He is a minimalist who captures the essence of crystal in his sculptures.

During the eighties, Anne Nilsson, Erika Lagerbielke, and Helen Krantz became designers at the firm.

The vase on the left is 'The Figure' by Edvin Ohrstrom, using the Ariel technique

Orrefors arranged an exciting programme during 1998 to celebrate its centenary.

The designers on staff created twenty five art glass masterpieces, each produced in a special edition of 25 signed pieces. This collection was called Gallery 100 and toured major cities in the world during the year.

A Jubilee collection of eight glasses designed by their current artists were also unveiled.

Orrefors Graal vase by Englund

The vase above is entitled Lily, another Graal vase by Eva Englund, 1993

Graal vase Aztec by Englund

Orrefors glass exhibitions can be seen at The National Museum of Fine Arts in Stockholm, and the Rohsska Museum of Applied Arts in Gothenburg. Stockholm's Auktionsverk holds an annual auction of Swedish glass in Smaland.

Throughout this company's history in the 20th Century it has developed an international reputation as an important creator and innovator of art glass design and techniques. This is reflected in the respect and values gained at international auctions and the inclusion of Orrefors' glass in major museums throughout the world. In 1990 the company merged with the Kosta Boda Group (another famous Swedish glassworks) and in 1997 it was taken over by Royal Scandinavia of Denmark. In 2005 it was sold to a Swedish company called New Wave Group, who specialise in corporate promotional items mostly for European corporations.

The vase on the left is a Graal vase by Eva Englund called "Aztec" from the 1980's

If you are looking for Orrefors glass, you can usually find pieces on offer on ebay. Click Orrefors Glass to see examples.

If you have enjoyed this article, you will enjoy the author's book called Scandinavian Glass: Creative Energies published in 2003 which has an
excellent chapter on Swedish glass artists and another on Swedish glassworks. Click here to read more about it.

Here are some more books about Swedish Glass that you should find very interesting. Click on the bookcovers or the titles to see more information.

Scandinavian glass by Geary Swedish glass by Friedman Smoke and Ice book Scandinavian Ceramics and Glass Orrefors glass book Orrefors Century book Orrefors glass book Swedish Arts Legacy

1: Scandinavian Glass: Creative Energies by William L. Geary, published 2003.

2: A Decorative Swedish Arts Legacy 1700-1960 by the Nationalmuseum Stockholm, published in 1998.

3: The Best of Modern Swedish Art Glass: Orrefors and Kosta 1930-1970 by Mark D. Friedman, published Feb 2007.

4: The Brilliance of Swedish Glass, 1918-1939: An Alliance of Art & Industry by Ostergard, Levine, Ericsson and Holkers, published 1996.

5:Orrefors: A Century of Swedish Glassmaking by Kerstin Wickman and Dag Widman (Editors), published 1999.

6: Orrefors Glass by Alastair Duncan, published 1996.

7: Swedish Glass Factories: Production Catalogues, 1915-1960 by Helmut Ricke, published 1987.

9: Suomen-Lasi-Finnish Glass by Kim Jarvi published 1980 - written in Finnish.

10: Swedish Art in Glass, 1900-1990 by B. Knutsson published 1998.

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