Nationalmuseum acquires Lidded urn designed by Gunnar Nylund

Nationalmuseum in Sweden has added a large porcelain lidded urn to its ceramics collection. The urn was designed by Gunnar Nylund, one of the most prominent Scandinavian ceramicists of the 20th century. Although the urn is most definitely a luxury item, it is decorated with images of workers, factories and cityscapes, reflecting the contemporary cult of the machine.

Lidded urn designed by Gunnar NylundIn Sweden, Gunnar Nylund is best known for his stoneware animals produced by Rörstrands Porslinsfabrik, where Nylund served as artistic director. However, he had an international background, having been raised and educated in France, Finland and Denmark.

Before making his career in Sweden, Nylund worked at Bing & Gröndahl in Copenhagen in the 1920s. In partnership with Nathalie Krebs, he later started Saxbo, which became renowned for its stoneware, considered revolutionary at the time. In the 1930s Nylund worked mainly in Sweden, launching his Flambé series, which generally featured classical imagery in black and brown on a brown, green or light blue background.

During a short residency in 1937/38 at his former employer, Bing & Gröndahl, Nylund created the unusually large lidded urn (60 centimetres tall) that has now been donated to Nationalmuseum. Nylund used the same technique – Flambé – as at Rörstrand, but the motif differs considerably from the fairly conventional imagery he used in Sweden.

The urn is decorated with images of male manual labourers in powerful poses, in a style closely resembling the socialist realism that dominated the contemporary art scene in some of Europe’s totalitarian dictatorships. The contrast between imagery and material is striking: a decidedly luxury item decorated with heroic worker motifs.

The urn is a significant addition to Nationalmuseum’s 20th-century ceramics collection, representing decorative imagery of a type not previously represented. This important acquisition is a generous gift from the Friends of Nationalmuseum Bengt Julin Fund.