A Lot to Love – Mike on Kåge’s Argenta Tobacco Jar
15 August 2019
by Michael Ingham; Director, Rago Unreserved Department
Among my favorite pieces on offer in the August 24-25 Unreserved Auctions is lot 450, an Argenta Art Deco tobacco jar by Swedish artist and designer Wilhelm Kåge.
Born in 1889, Wilhelm Kåge studied painting at the Technical School in Stockholm before enrolling in the Art School Valand in Gothenburg. He also studied briefly under famed French artist Henri Matisse.
Wilhelm Kåge’s early career was dedicated to the design of theatrical and exhibition posters. Credited for pioneering the use of posters as a form of advertisement in Sweden, he is best known for his work in ceramics, which began in 1917 with his appointment as artistic director of Swedish porcelain company Gustavsberg. Kåge stayed with the firm until his retirement in 1949, and continued to work and experiment at the Gustavsberg factory until his death in 1960.
Stig Lindberg and Wilhelm Kåge in the Gustavsberg pottery workshop, late 1930s
During his tenure at Gustavsberg, Kåge oversaw the production of numerous product lines. The most commercially successful of these was his “Argenta” line – a series of tableware, jars and vases in a dark verdigris glaze with painted silver decoration. Argenta was conceived in the late 1920’s and debuted at the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, which highlighted Sweden’s most successful modern design and architecture firms. The debut of Argenta was such an immediate success that Kåge, who had hand-painted the silver designs on the earliest Argenta pieces, was forced to quickly develop an entire Argenta Department dedicated to production of the lucrative line which continued well into the 1970s.
Lot 450 presents an excellent and early example of Kåge’s Argenta line. Sculpted with beautiful Art Deco lines, the tapered form rises out of a coved base and is lidded with a stepped top terminating in an oval finial. Its elegant silver decoration is evocative of the Chrysler Building’s sculpted architectural details and depicts an elegant cocktail party with men in tuxedos and women in gowns enjoying an evening on a classical veranda.
This lot is an elegant reminder of a gracious time and a fine example of a legendary ceramicist’s work. It stands as a tribute to Wilhelm Kåge’s artistic talents and innovative mind.