Axel Salto (1889-1961) can be said to be one of the most important designers in the history of Danish art. He made his debut in 1911 and quickly became a key figure on the art scene in Denmark. He was one of the most experimental and versatile cultural personalities of the time and contributed to the introduction of modern art in his home country. His art is currently very much in demand at auction. His stoneware bowls and vases in particular attract high prices.
As well as ceramicist Axel Salto was also a journal contributor, writer and an important figure in the art debate of the time – but he could also add painter and graphic artist to his calling card. The mythical character Actaeon, who according to legend is punished by being transformed into a deer, is the motif and inspiration he explored both in his early paintings as well as in his graphic art and ceramics. Salto used the power of the pen to the full, both as author and illustrator. He illustrated his own publications and wrote both lyrics and prose about art and ceramics.
'De Fire' (The Four)
Axel Salto was member and co-founder of the art group 'De Fire', which apart from Salto himself included the painters Vilhelm Lundstrøm, Svend Johansen and Karl Larsen. For much of the 1920s the four were based in France, where they both lived and worked collectively for a period. The four artists opened their first exhibition at the turn of year 1920-21, and exhibited regularly in the following years up until 1930. The artists branded themselves in quite a modern way as the four phenomena, and lively debate always surrounded their exhibitions. They signalled a change within art and their work was seen as young, bold and innovative. In an interview with the Danish newspaper Politiken Salto said: 'We seek the solid structure, the pure and monumental colour tones – in other words: the inner construction that is the essence of Art itself ...'
'Klingen' (The Blade)
Axel Salto went to Paris in 1916 and while he was there met Picasso and Matisse. The encounter proved to be a decisive one for his ambitions and his art, and he took his inspiration back to Denmark. Here, using his own funds he started the arts journal 'Klingen'– a dynamic journal filled with passionate exchange of ideas. 'Klingen' evolved into a forum where the modernist movement could be debated and many of the artists of the time came with heated contributions. Salto also wrote for the journal, as did e.g. Otto Gelsted and Poul Henningsen, pushing the boundaries of art in Denmark as the journal's most active writers.
Salto’s career as ceramicist was launched at the Paris Exhibition of 1925. To begin with it was Bing & Grøndahl who requested he make objects using stoneware. Success blossomed – both personally for Salto as well as artistically. Stoneware became his preferred material and mode of expression. Salto produced almost 3,000 different stoneware pieces in a period of 20 years – many of which were produced in Carl Hallier’s workshop in Copenhagen Frederiksberg. The great majority of his work though was for Royal Copenhagen in the mid-1930s.
Fluted, budding and sprouting
Salto used three main styles in his ceramics, called fluted, budding and sprouting, all very clearly inspired by nature – the small-leaved ivy from the Danish island of Bornholm that envelops and engulfs the rocks it covers, the richness of the detail in the natural world like the star-shaped pattern on a sea urchin, and budding shoots on botanical specimens – all this sublimated in the ceramic. He demonstrated sophisticated craftsmanship and use of material by means of a very conscious relationship to the glaze.
The fluted style is characterized by a simple, stylized and fluted zigzag pattern that resembles primitive art. A star-like pattern emerges from the glaze in the way it runs through the furrows, the way it condenses and thickens, then runs back.
The budding style is a further development of the fluted. The density of the glaze and the colour changes according to the variations in the form, uniting with these in rich interplay.
The sprouting style gives an illusion of movement and growth. The naturalistic model used is newly opening buds. The movement in the sides of the vase makes the glaze run freely between peak and trough.