Ahti and Maija Lavonen – In Harmony


The main exhibition showing at the Didrichsen Art Museum in Helsinki during our recent visit was devoted to the works of two Finnish artists, a married couple, Ahti and Maija Lavonen.

The Gallery’s website tells us that

Ahti Lavonen (1928–1970) became one of the leading figures in Finnish painting in the Sixties – a bold experimenter and committed individual who closely followed artistic developments at home and abroad, and who was never afraid to air his opinions in public. His brilliant career came to an abrupt end with his early death in 1970.

The roots of Maija Lavonen’s (1931–) artistic career lay in the traditions of textile art, craftsmanship and a profound understanding of materials. Study, work, exhibiting and commissions formed an integral chain that has extended over six decades. Her choice of materials and techniques is a combination of the old and the new, and always contextually harmonious. Nature provides the prevailing motif in her works.

Ahti, who died relatively young (he was 43) was clearly influenced by a number of his contemporaries elsewhere in Europe and the Americas, and the works on display reflected a number of styles. Here’s a selection.


Maiji primarily worked in textiles and the exhibition displayed works in the more traditional media and also some more recent works using fibre optics.




Emil Nolde: Colour is Life at the NGI


A little while ago I developed an interest in German Expressionist art and am quite keen to see and find out more about it. So when I was in Dublin last Sunday afternoon, I decided to call into the National Gallery of Ireland to take a look at their latest temporary exhibition, which is devoted to the work of Emil Nolde.

He was born as Emil Hansen near the village of Nolde  in the Prussian Duchy of Schleswig, close to Denmark (and which had been the area disputed by Denmark and Germany in the mid 19th Century resulting in a war between the two countries). He changed his name to that of his home town, for reasons which probably reflect his political views (more of which later).

In 1906, he joined Die Brücke (The Bridge), the group of Expressionist artists based Dresden, but left after a year. He was a member of the Berlin Secession, from 1908 to 1910, leaving when he fell out with them, and  exhibited with Wassily Kandinsky’s Munich-based group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in 1912. He clearly was found it difficult to work with artists working in a similar style – possibly reflecting his politics. Many of the Expressionists were relatively Radical while he was a German Nationalist who joined the Nazi Party relatively early in 1920. And it’s this latter point which has attracted a lot of attention in reviews of the Exhibition. Can you like and admire work by someone who adhered to such views? Ironically, like other Expressionists, the Nazi regime considered him to be a “Degenerate Artist”, having his pictures removed from public galleries and forbidding to produce any work. Despite this he remained an ardent supporter with anti-Semitic views.

I hadn’t particularly read up on Nolte before I visited the exhibition and wasn’t aware of his obnoxious politics, so this wasn’t something I was thinking about during my visit (although I started to clock this when reading some of the information panels in the exhibition), and I viewed the works with something of an open mind. My impression was that he was a talented artist who painted some quite stunning, colourful pictures in both oil and watercolour, drawings, etchings, and woodcuts. The works on display included portraits, landscapes, seascapes, scenes of Berlin café culture, views of the River Elbe, and paintings and drawings from his travels to the South Seas.

As usual, no photos allowed and not many of the pictures from the exhibition are on the NGI website, so here’s only a limited selection.

Party (1911), one of his paintings of Berlin night life before WW1


A lithograph from a series of 121 identical prints of a young couple, coloured by hand after printing. There were 68 variations, using different colours. 4 of the prints were on display


Candle Dancers (1912)


One of several beautiful, dramatic seascapes – Ruffled Autumn Clouds (1927)


I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition. The bright colours and abstract style and the subject matter. the only paintings I didn’t particularly like were some of his religious works. For me, there were no real, obvious, blatant, reference to his political views in the works on display. Even the series of works from his visit to the South Seas as part of the German “Medical Demographic Exhibition” where he was meant to study the “racial characteristics” of the population, were sympathetic portrayals of the indigenous people.

So back to the difficult question. There are plenty of artists whose work I like who held views that were an anathema to me or where it has come to light that they committed some awful, horrific acts (Eric Gill comes to mind – he produced sublime work but abused his daughters). To some extent, Nolde’s support for the Nazis makes me want to dislike his work but I didn’t. There were plenty of other people who supported the Nazis too, who, like Nolde, were “rehabilitated” after the war. And, as I’ve already commented, I couldn’t see any blatant political reference in his work. So I’m not going to say I didn’t like what I saw, but reading up about the artist after seeing the exhibition certainly left something of a sour taste.




Arts & Crafts bedroom at Blackwell


Last Autumn Blackwell opened a recreated Master Arts & Crafts bedroom inspired from  designs by Hugh Baillie Scott, Blackwell’s architect, interpreted by contemporary designers. The items of furniture and other objects on display are very typical of the Arts & Crafts style.

The oak bed has been created for the room from a actual design by Baillie Scott from the Pyghtle Works catalogue printed in 1901.



Tibor Reich at the Whitworth


Last Sunday, the May Spring Bank Holiday weekend, we went into Manchester for the afternoon. One of our objectives was to visit the Whitworth Gallery as we hadn’t been for a while. The main galleries were being prepared for the next exhibition and so were closed, but there was still plenty to occupy us for a couple of hours.

Two of the galleries upstairs were showing an exhibition of the work of Tibor Reich. I’d read the report by Barbara of Milady’s Boudoir a few weeks ago and wanted to see it for myself.


The Whitworth’s website tells us that the exhibition

celebrates the centenary of Tibor Reich, a pioneering post-war textile designer, who brought modernity into British textiles. Born in Budapest, Hungary in 1916, Reich studied architecture and textiles in Vienna before moving to Britain in 1937. In 1946 he set up Tibor Ltd, introducing bright new colours and textures into the drab interiors of post-war Britain. The firm rapidly gained an international reputation working on commissions for the Festival of Britain, Expo ‘58 and Concorde.

The exhibition explores the ideas behind his innovative textiles, photography, ceramics and drawings.


Tibor Reich who was Jewish, was born in Budapest in 1916. He escaped Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1937 and settled down in Leeds where he studied textile technology and design at Leeds University. On graduating, he went to work for Tootals of Bolton, but left after a year, moving on to set up his own company based in Stratford-upon-Avon, designing and producing fabrics. Initially the cloth was woven on handlooms, but power looms were later installed.

He went on  to produce textile designs for The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Festival of Britain, Coventry Cathedral,  furniture manufacturers such as G Plan and for the Royal Yacht Britannia, Concorde and the QE2. In 1954 an exhibition of his work titled ‘An Adventure with Colour’, toured the country and was seen by 250,000 people.

His textiles were based on relatively simple, colourful, abstract patterns, which was radical for it’s time in a Britain still recovering from wartime austerity and more used to greys, beige and other dull colours.


There was an extract of a Pathe film about his working methods showing on a loop. It’s available on You Tube.

He developed a system of pattern design, known as “Fotexur” (Fo referring to photography and texur to texture) which involved taking photographs of all sorts of textures and patterns from the environment, including plants, bark, stone, cracked earth and straw. Selecting patterns that interested him, cutting them out, rearranging them – a real “cut and paste” approach – and printing them in colourful inks. There was a display case showing the tools he used.



(Image source: Wikipedia)

His textiles could incorporate figurative elements too, like this pattern illustrating the manufacture of Aluminium


He also designed pottery, including a range called Tigo-Ware which later was produced by Denby. His black and white cartoon like designs were influenced by Hungarian folk art but expressed in contemporary shapes.


I really liked these pieces which have a very modern look and “feel” to them and wouldn’t be out of place in a contemporary designer’s collection.


For me, his designs were redolent of my childhood in the 60’s. I even had a blanket on my bed that was surely influenced by his work. It’s pattern was very similar to these examples of his blanket designs.


This was a marvellous exhibition. A little like the Bauhaus was in the 20’s and 30’s, his approach must have seemed revolutionary at the time but because of his influence these types of design have been incorporated into the mainstream.

Make Yourself Comfortable at Chatsworth

During our recent visit to Chatsworth we bought a combined House and Garden ticket for although our main motivation for visiting was to see the Beyond Limits exhibition in he gardens, we also wanted to have another look around the house to revisit the collection of Modern Art on display. We’d also read that there was an exhibition of contemporary seating taking place. Initially I wasn’t sure it would be of much interest, but, as it happened, I was wrong!

The Chatsworth website told us that:

Make Yourself Comfortable at Chatsworth will see items from the private collection of the Duke and Duchess showcased alongside furniture by internationally acclaimed and innovative designers – from Thomas Heatherwick and Amanda Levete, to Marc Newson, Tokujin Yoshioka, Piet Hein Eek and Moritz Waldemeyer. The exhibition will also showcase thought-provoking, specially commissioned pieces, including Raw Edges’ End Grain seating which will become part of the Sculpture Gallery, and Synthesis IV by emerging designer Tom Price which will be on display in the Chapel.

Chairs and other types of seating were positioned around the house and visitors were allowed to take advantage of them, try them out and rest their legs for a while.

Some of the chairs were very comfortable


Others less so!


These were the first we saw. Designed to spin around so you could view the painted ceiling in the entrance hall (if you didn’t lose you balance and fall off!)


These were chairs designed for readers (I think Milady would like these)




A bench made of coal


and one of resin infused with bitumen


both reflecting the Dukes of Devonshire’s association with the mineral extraction industries.

Some others we saw









Towards the end of the tour of the house, in the dining room, around the large dining table there were chairs designed by students from Sheffield




Finally, in the sculpture hall a very interesting collection specially created for the exhibition

(an) indoor landscape created by Raw Edges in the Sculpture Gallery, where benches and stools emerge like tree trunks from the coloured grid-like floor and offer new perspectives of the sculptures.


DSC07089 DSC07093

Eileen Gray at the IMMA


The Irish Museum of Modern Art at Kilmainham in Dublin reopened recently and I made a particular point of visiting during my recent short break in the city, particularly as I was keen to see the exhibition about the work of Eileen Gray that had originally been shown in Paris at the Beauborg. I got interested in her work after reading an article in the London Review of Books earlier this year, and had already visited the permanent exhibition about her life and work at the Irish National Museum at the Collins Barracks, not far from the IMMA, in June, which had cemented my enthusiasm. Born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith in 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland, she moved to London to study art and then on to Paris. She painted, worked in lacquer, produced rugs and carpets and moved on to designing bespoke furniture and Modernist buildings. So quite a talent.

I was very much looking forward to seeing this exhibition. However, to be honest, I was a little disappointed. It wasn’t as comprehensive as I’d hoped. It was fine in that it covered the breadth of her work, but I thought it lacked depth, at least in some aspects. I was particularly disappointed that they didn’t have more of her lacquer work on show. But I guess that must be hard to get hold of.

Six-panel screen c.1922-1925

They only had a relatively limited range of her furniture, but, no doubt, that’s because she didn’t produce that much and they were mainly one off pieces created for private clients. They did have a Bibendum chair, a curved sofa and a couple of examples of the little reading table she designed. No photos allowed, but I have included some pictures in this post from various sources, including the Beaubourg and Victoria and Albert websites.


There was a section covering her architecture, with scale models, plans, photographs and slide shows and some pieces of her furniture from her revolutionary Modernist building,   E-1027, some pieces designed specifically for the house.  There were some photographs and a selection of nice abstract paintings, and carpet designs, with a few actual carpets, some from her workshop and one that had been recreated by an Irish firm.

St Tropez rug

There were also scale models of the buildings she’d designed, including  E-1027,

Model of E.1027, Roquebrune/Cap Martin (Alpes-Maritimes), France

theTempe a Pailla near Menton, as well as her renovated summer house Lou Perou (in this case a traditional design). There were models too of a couple of designs that were never realised in practice – an elliptical house designed for workers on remote sites or for temporary disaster housing, (I’m not sure that it would have been comfortable to live in) and an interesting looking caravan/tent.

The exhibition included contextual information –  documentary, photographic and biographical material to provide insights into hers interests, influences and motivations. There are also a number of video works including pictures of E-1027, before and after its renovation, and an interview with the artist herself.


We visited the Bauhaus archive while we were in Berlin and I’ve been reading up on the revolutionary German art and design school both before and after that holiday. So I was quite struck with the many similarities between her work and that movement (the architecture and furniture designs particularly, but also her photographs and carpet designs). Not surprising, really I guess.

As a stand alone exhibition it was good, telling her life story well and with some good examples of her work. But it didn’t add as much as I’d hoped to what I’d seen and learned at the Collin’s Barracks. So, overall I enjoyed the exhibition, but felt a little unsatisfied. Rather like having eaten a light meal when you really expected something more substantial. But still well worth the visit.

The Bröhan Museum

This excellent little museum devoted to Art Nouveau / Jugendstil, Art Deco and German Functionalism  is on Schlossstrasse, next door to the Berggruen Museum. As I’m quite an Art Nouveau and Art Deco fanboy, and as cost of entry was included in our newly purchased 3 day Museum Pass, a visit was obligatory!

The museum’s collection of furniture, porcelain, ceramics, glass, silverware, other domestic articles and paintings was donated to the city of Berlin by a businessman, Karl Bröhan, on his 60th birthday.  It’s arranged in a series of “room ensembles” with furniture, objects and paintings in a particular style or from a particular period. The exhibits are arranged so that visitors proceed through time as they move through the exhibition on the ground floor.

The first room had some classic Art Nouveau furniture designed by none other than Hector Guimard, best known for his Nouveau Paris Metro Stations.


This sideboard is by another French artist Eugène Gaillard. It’s made from walnut wood with brass fittings with a swirling line decoration typical of Art Nouveau style


These chairs and tables, while still very ornate, are starting to suggest an evolution towards a simpler, less florid, shape.


This three piece suite ornate upholstery but with simpler shapes


The accompanying standard lamp was still very fancy


A simpler, more angular look – we’re definitely into Art Deco now!


These look like they’ve come out of a 1930’s film set – and Art Deco is very much associated with Hollywood



These next few pieces are examples of the application of good design principles applied to mass manufactured furniture and other household objects – an approach that was later to be adopted by the Bauhaus.



These table, chairs and sideboard were created in 1902 by Peter Behrens for the “Modern Living Interiors” Exhibition at Wertheim’s Store in Leipziger Straße in Berlin.



Behrens was an important figure in the Modernist movement and was a major influence on Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Adolf Meyer, Jean Kramer and Walter Gropius who were either his students or assistants.

Eileen Gray

There was an article in the Observer today about E1027, the Modernist house on the Côte d’Azur designed by the Irish designer and architect, Eileen Gray. I’d never heard of her until relatively recently when I read an article in the London Review of Books about her triggered by the start of an exhibition of her work at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (it finished at the end of May). Now she seems to keep popping up everywhere!

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Image source: Wikipedia

She was born as Katherine Eileen Moray Smith in 1878, near Enniscorthy, a market town in south-eastern Ireland, but moved to London to study art and then on to Paris. An article on the Time Out website reviewing the Pompidou exhibition tells us that

Miss Gray was one of those avant-garde women who wore trousers and broke into a man’s world with their creative flair. A self-made woman and multitalented designer, she spent a good portion of her long (1878-1976) life in France – after her studies at London’s Slade school of art, she moved to Paris in 1902 where she learned (in the studio of Seizo Sugawara) to create futuristic furniture in lacquer, and to insinuate into her screens, tables and lamps the oblique lines that prefigured modernism.

She then moved on into designing Modernist furniture and carpets and interiors. Her best known designs are the Bibendum chair, named after the character created by Michelin to advertise their tyres,

Bibendum chair (picture source: http://antiquesandartireland.com)

and the E1027 table designed in 1929, initially to facilitate her sister reading in bed.


E-1027 table by Eileen Gray (picture source Wikipedia)

In the 1920’s she moved on to architecture, her first design being E1027


E-1027 (Picture source Friends of E1027 website)

There’s a small permanent exhibition about her life and work at the Irish National Museum at the Collins Barracks and, curious to find out more about her after the LRB article had fired my interest, I had a look at it during my visit last Sunday. 

The exhibition posthumously realised one of Gray’s last ambitions – to have her work brought back to Ireland – and

includes such important items as the adjustable chrome table and the non-conformist chair. The exhibition also values Gray on a personal level, including family photographs, her lacquering tools, and personal ephemera. It illustrates an account of her professional development from art student in London and Paris to mature, innovative architect. The exhibition honours the memory of Eileen Gray, modern self-taught architect and designer.

The exhibition comprises one main room showing the exhibits and a second, smaller room where visitors can view a couple of documentaries about her while sitting in a Bibendum chair (it was, to my surprise, very comfortable). There were samples of her lacquer work, plus a description, including videos, of the painstaking process of producing pieces using this natural resin. As I’d expected there were examples of her furniture, pictures of her interiors and plans, and a model, of E1027.

Architectural plan

(image from exhibition website)

No photography was allowed, and there was no guide book and very little information on the Museum’s website about the exhibition.  But it was worth the visit to see the examples of her furniture “in the flesh”.

There will be an opportunity to see more of her work in Dublin later in the year as the Paris exhibition will be transferred to the Irish Museum of Modern Art at the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham, when it reopens in the Autumn, starting 12 October. I hope to have the opportunity to visit it.


There’s a gallery of pictures on E1027 and it’s restoration on the Guardian website here.