We associate the Nordic countries with bleak dramatic landscapes while Scandinavian design has long been admired for its simplicity and modernity. A new British Museum touring exhibition which has just opened at Weston Park Museum brings the two together.
Nordic by Nature: Modern Design and Prints explores how nature and landscape is at the heart of Finnish, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian art and design.
Natural spectacles, from the aurora borealis to the white nights of the frozen north, as well as local materials like birch wood, contribute to a distinctly Nordic aesthetic.
The exhibition uses the British Museum’s collection to look at how artists and designers from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have created distinctive objects and imagery that are rooted in their culture, traditions and industries and often embody national pride.
Objects and works on paper illustrate how these artists and designers have been drawn to common themes.
Exhibition highlights include seminal pieces by one of the leading figures in 20th century Finnish design, glassmaker Tapio Wirkkala, which resemble melting, cracked or carved ice and are shown against prints of stark icy landscapes.
Works in birch bark by Finnish basket maker Markku Kosonen adapt traditional forms to create modern works of art and are displayed alongside traditional plaited birch bark bags, still made today..
A set of Finnish cutlery from the Sheffield collection has a hint of shards of ice in its design.
The exhibition also brings together a range of Swedish prints, ceramics, and glass works from Småland, which is known as the Kingdom of Crystal. The influence of Sweden’s fishing culture is evident in some of the designs.
Lucy Cooper, Museums Sheffield exhibitions and displays curator, points out that Sweden has been known for its stylish homeware since the early 20th century. At first designers produced work for big factories which eventually went over the mass production but they are still making high-end individual items today.
Denmark is represented by a broader range showing how their design principles took on a natural form.
On display are experimental and minimalist works such as Erik Magnussen’s revolutionary table wares of the 1960s and Per Kirkeby’s light-hearted print, Telephone Rings (1964).
The works from the British Museum will be complemented by selection Nordic objects drawn from Sheffield’s own historic collections.
Flora Danica botanical illustrations, commissioned by the Danish royal family in the 18th century, now in the Ruskin Collection are on view alongside an example of Royal Copenhagen china plate reproducing them.
“We have also borrowed exhibits from the Turner Glass Museum at the University of Sheffield to supplement the British Museum collection,” adds the curator.
There is an interactive area which includes a film of the Northern Lights, Philip Pullman’s book of that name, a book plate from Hans Christian Andersen and a Moomin, the animated series which took inspiration from the classic Finnish landscape.
Lucy Cooper concludes “It’s slightly different from the usual show at Weston Park but there are a lot of beautiful things to look at and make the connection between nature and art.”
Nordic by Nature: modern design and print is on view at Weston Park Museum until July 28.