Ashtrays designed by Paolo Venini

Paolo Venini (1895 – 1959) was an Italian glassware designer and maker.

Biography

From 1921, he worked as a glassmaker in Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappelin-Venini with Venetian antique trader Giacomo Cappelin, Andrea Rioda, and Vittorio Zecchin. Zecchin, a well-known painter, decorator, and glass designer, was named creative and technical director.

First Modern Glass Style

Venini and sculptor Napoleone Martinuzzi founded their own glass business in Murano in 1925. He created in a plain, functional style; subsequently, he interpreted Modernism (or Novecento) in a livelier and more innovative way than northern Europe, creating the first Modern glass style.

Hired Freelance Designers

Murano glassware was historically decorated with opulent rubies and gold and fanciful forms in vibrant colours. He hired freelance designers like Martinuzzi and Fulvio Bianconi regularly. Gio Ponti from 1927, Carlo Scarpa from 1932, Eugene Berman from 1951, Ken Scott from 1951, Franco Albini from 1954, and Massimo Vignelli from 1956 were the designers he commissioned.

He showed bottles by Ponti and Bianconi named Morandiennes, made of double-coloured cane, an extruded glass element, at the 1956 Biennale di Venezia. Another popular method was vetro a fili (glass with lines), which used colourful glass rods implanted in a technique called zanfirico to produce stripes.

Vetro Pezzato Process

In 1950, he created a patchwork effect with his vetro pezzato process, which used squares of varied colours to create a patchwork pattern. The vaso fassoletto (handkerchief vase) by Bianconi was one of Venini’s most well-known 1950s forms. A square of thin glass was melted over a form to create a wavy-edged bowl. Its amusing figurines were made on the spur of the moment during hot-glass experiments. Paolo Venini’s unique glassware had a liveliness from direct engagement with the glassmaking process, which was not common in northern Europe, where artisans executed designers’ ideas.

Following his death, his widow Ginette Venini and son-in-law Ludovico de Santillana took over the firm’s management. They commissioned designers such as Tobia Scarpa and Tapio Wirkkala.

Recognition

Achieved initial success at 1925 Paris ‘Exposition Internation- ale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.’ Work shown at 1923 (I) Monza Biennale, 1933 (V) Triennale di Milano, and at 1956 Biennale di Venezia. Work subject of the 1981 ‘Venini Glass’ exhibition, Smithsonian Institution, Washington. The vetro pezzato glassware and vessels by Tobia Scarpa and Wirkkala were included in the 1983—84 “Design Since 1945′ exhibition, Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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