The famous Venini glassworks was established in 1921 by Paolo Venini on the island of Murano near Venice. A large glass industry already had existed there for centuries, transforming quartz silica and other common materials into three-dimensional art as well as everyday items. But Murano glass had become predictable and commercial.
Venini wasn’t a craftsman; he didn’t blow glass, but he revolutized the way glass was created, marketed and sold.
Venini extended Modernist trends beyond architecture and painting into glass art with dazzling designs that have been the subject of several museum exhibitions and Venini glass still seems fresh today.
His studio’s designs from the 1930s-1950s are especially collectible. While you can find bowls and other simple pieces for $2,000, a tall 1950s-era vase will be valued as high as $17,500. Rare vintage pieces attributed to specific Venini designers now approach $100,000.
Venini visited Venice as a soldier during World War I and the city made a deep impression on the young man drawing him back after the war. His forbearers had been glass-makers, but Paolo Venini was trained as an attorney. He invested in an existing glassworks with antique glass dealer Giacomo Cappellin, but by 1925 the partnership had dissolved and Venini was pursuing a strikingly independent course.
He adopted the French fashion industry’s approach of using designers to create individual styles and lines of glass. Most had never worked in glass, but were painters, architects and other artists who brought fresh ideas to the island. He liberally encouraged them to experiment with new design concepts and new glassmaking techniques. At the same time, Venini insisted that his designers collaborate closely with Murano’s expert glassblowers and other artisans.
He also reached out to a wider audience and new markets and he regularly entered his glassware in major exhibitions throughout Europe.
Distinctive Venini lines are associated with particular designers and art directors including Napoleone Martinuzzi, Carlo Scarpa and Fulvio Bianconi and serious collectors pursue their work.
Originally a sculptor, he was the art director from 1925 to 1931. Martinuzzi’s designs are notable for their intense colors and originality – glassworks like Vetro pulegoso (bubble glass rendered opaque by millions of bubbles), Pasta vitrea (glass paste), and Incamiciato (double layered colored glass).
His daring designs became a Venini trademark. He left the glassworks shortly after World War II and became one of the 20th century’s notable architects. He developed glass manufacturing techniques such as “a murrine” that employed small glass patches and designs with ribboned, corroded and milky surfaces. His son developed one of Venini’s signature geometic lines, “Occhi” (eyes), which feature blobby circles within rectangles.
Bianconni was an illustrator who renewed the company’s postwar fortunes. His most creative period was in the 1950s when he produced some flamboyant designs, such as the famous “Pezzato” (patches) and “Fazzoletto” (handkerchief) vases.
All true Venini pieces are etched with identifying stamps. These have changed from decade to decade, but they are widely cataloged and make the works easily identifiable. They include the Venini name, the designer’s name, ID numbers and other marks.
Venini managed the enterprise with great verve until his death in 1959. In the 1980s the Venini family sold the glassworks and now it is owned by Royal Scandinavia. Many original designs have been reissued, but if you can afford it, go for the vintage pieces.
Their limited availability only increases their value. And, the older ones were made in charcoal furnaces. Many collectors believe they have a special beauty that pieces fired in modern gas kilns cannot match.
To begin collecting, educate yourself on all aspects of Venini glass.
The Internet is a good place to start. Visit the Venini site for a list of museums with Venini glass.
Click here for the Venini site.
Look for the glass displays at major museums including the Corning Museum of Glass, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Follow the glass sales at major auction houses.
Read books by glass experts; such as “Italian Glass: Murano-Milan, 1930-1970″ by the Kunstmuseum director Helmut Ricke and the glass scholar Eva Schmitt.
Always buy from a reputable dealer or gallery and be sure that you have a certificate of authenticity with the production date for your purchase.