Women Pioneers

These women were successful designers and artist during the interwar years, but have since more or less fallen into oblivion. Get to know Tyra Lundgren, Anna Petrus, Estrid Ericson, among others, and see about 150 works from their impressive production.

Tyra Lundgren, Self Portrait. Estrid Ericson. Photo: Eric Holmén. Anna Petrus, unknown photographer.

Tyra Lundgren, Self Portrait. Estrid Ericson. Photo: Eric Holmén. Anna Petrus, unknown photographer.

4 December 2015–14 February 2016
Shown at Nationalmuseum Design @ Kulturhuset Stadsteatern. 

The exhibition Women Pioneers – Swedish Design in Between the Wars will feature works by 20 artists and designers, some well known and some less so, including Tyra Lundgren, Anna Petrus, Estrid Ericson, Wilhelmina Wendt, Kitty von Otter and Sylvia Stave. In all, there will be 150 featured pieces from Nationalmuseum’s collections, in a range of materials including cast iron, glass and silver.

Swedish crafts and design enjoyed an upsurge in popularity between the two world wars. The style of this period is often referred to internationally as Swedish Grace and is known in Sweden as early Functionalism. With a few exceptions, the role played by women in this period of inventive and colourful design is rarely highlighted. History has forgotten these female designers. One reason is that modernism as an artistic project was identified with male characteristics. The great artist genius was, according to the contemporary mindset, a man by definition, and only rarely a woman. Another reason is that many of the female artists of the time made their debut in the 1920s, when an ornate, colourful style was in fashion. When tastes changed in the 1930s, these artists were not necessarily successful in reinventing themselves, so they appeared dated and were overlooked. A further reason is that many of them worked for large companies such as Svenskt Tenn and C.G Hallberg, which sought not to highlight individual artists but the company itself. Nor can we disregard the devastating effects of the Second World War, which cut off essential channels of communication and supplies of raw materials essential to artistic production. The postwar generational change accelerated the process whereby older generations of artists, male and female alike, were forgotten.

For a long time, Nationalmuseum took on the task of educating public taste, which stood in the way of breadth in the acquisition policy. Coupled with a lack of funding for new acquisitions, this meant that many significant design objects from the interwar years were absent from the museum’s collections. So, in 2012, Nationalmuseum launched a project to actively collect works by female design pioneers. The results can be seen in this exhibition, in which half of the pieces were acquired in the past two years. The most significant acquisition is a collection of works by Sylvia Stave, produced during a short but intense period of the artist’s career. However, for various reasons the exhibition will not include textile art or furniture. An exhibition catalogue in Swedish will be available, with articles by Magnus Olausson, Christian Björk, Anders Bengtsson, Micael Ernstell and Jessica Kempe. The exhibition is co-produced by Nationalmuseum and Läckö Castle, and curated by Magnus Olausson.

Sylvia Stave, Lock till toalettdosa.
Syliva Stave, Lid for toilette tin. Made by C G Hallbergs Guldsmeds AB

Ilse Claeson, Bålskål med pantermotiv.
Ilse Claesson, Bowl.


Wilhelmina Wendt, Borste
Wilhelmina Wendt, Brush. Made at the Skånska Ättiksfabriken factory




Art Library and Museum Archives,
Holmamiralens väg 2,
Skeppsholmen, Stockholm 

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