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A grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers brought $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Wilhelm Kåge, Scandinavian ceramics master

NEW YORK — The ceramics market has been strong of late, and in particular, Scandinavian ceramics have performed markedly well. Yet many pieces, including those by Wilhelm Kåge, can still be had for reasonable sums.

Kåge (1889-1960) first had a career in advertising and poster design in his native Sweden , which led to his work being exhibited in local galleries. His appealing poster designs caught the attention of the Gustavsberg porcelain factory, which hired him as its artistic director in 1917 to beautify its dinnerware and ceramics.

Argenta wares by Wilhelm Kåge are often priced affordably and “undervalued,” according to auctioneer Richard Wright. This Argenta footed decanter with sublime decoration of a goddess riding a fish was a bargain at $1,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Zikorn Arts & History Objects and LiveAuctioneers.
Argenta wares by Wilhelm Kåge are often priced affordably and “undervalued,” according to auctioneer Richard Wright. This Argenta footed decanter with sublime decoration of a goddess riding a fish was a bargain at $1,600 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Zikorn Arts & History Objects and LiveAuctioneers.

“He’s incredibly historically important. He helped Gustavsberg maintain a very high level of artistic integrity, and set up the company for a really spectacular postwar period,” said Richard Wright, CEO of Rago/Wright. “The majority of his career is before or during World War II … a very different kind of world and aesthetic than we can relate to now.”

Kåge made more somber designs in the years following World War I and leading up to World War II. In contrast to his bold and optimistic postwar ceramics, Kåge’s decorations were restrained, and his designs were practical. Early on, he created dinnerware sets before moving into figural works and artful pieces. Praktika, one of his 1930s tableware lines for Gustavsberg, was designed to be stackable for the target demographic of working-class families.

Sterling silver inlay detail from one in a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers, which sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Sterling silver inlay detail from one in a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers, which sold for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

His Argenta series, which debuted in the 1930s and was produced until the 1970s, was one of his biggest commercial successes. Collectors today can easily find good examples to acquire. The Argenta line’s most distinctive feature is its bright blue-green glaze, which is often accented with Art Deco-style images of women, animals, and flowers in sterling silver inlay.

“I think his aesthetic is a reflection of the time that he was in — a more restrained sort of palette, and that’s what you see with Argenta,” Wright said. “Within a very restrained palette, he does come up with an incredible number of designs.”

New buyers looking to build a collection of Kåge’s ceramics would do well to start with his Argenta pieces, as most cost around $1,000. “I always like to call out things that are relative bargains. For anybody who is drawn to it [Argenta], it is very undervalued. A vast majority of it sells very low,” Wright said.

Pictured are another enchanting Art Deco sterling silver inlay detail as well as a maker’s mark from a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers. Offered together, they brought $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Pictured are another enchanting Art Deco sterling silver inlay detail as well as a maker’s mark from a grouping of three large Wilhelm Kåge Argenta platters or chargers. Offered together, they brought $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Proving this point, a grouping of three large Argenta platters or chargers, finely executed and with interesting provenance to boot, sold within its $3,000-$5,000 estimate for $3,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Palm Beach Modern Auctions in October 2020. Decorated with silver inlay of semi-nude women, the chargers were originally commissioned for the Swedish royal family, and were displayed in the royal palace in the 1930s.

Regarding the auction market for Kåge’s ceramics, Wright said that while Kåge is not a market leader, his works sell consistently and at fair prices. Kåge’s Farsta series, which was introduced at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, may have been in keeping with a more restrained style of decoration, but his ability to add texture and surface decoration to pieces is evident. This line was named for the Farstalandet region near the Gustavsberg factory, although the clay came from southern Sweden and is noted for its high iron levels.

This Wilhelm Kåge Farsta vase in a pleasing shade of blue earned €2,200 ($2,370) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.
This Wilhelm Kåge Farsta vase in a pleasing shade of blue earned €2,200 ($2,370) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.

“His most valuable work is his Farsta series — inventive and magical forms and textures and glazes that were produced in an incredible variety,” Wright said. “I don’t know the ultimate number of the designs he did, but there are a lot of different shapes, and they are not super expensive.”

Kåge was perhaps at his best when he paired patterned, textured surfaces with glazed and unglazed surfaces. “I love them,” Wright said, adding, “I think they are very cool, and honestly, somewhat quirky.”

This circa-1956 Farsta Spirea vase by Wilhem Kåge has overall patterning and texture. Standing 12 ¾in tall, it more than doubled its $3,000-$5,000 estimate to attain $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.
This circa-1956 Farsta Spirea vase by Wilhem Kåge has overall patterning and texture. Standing 12 ¾in tall, it more than doubled its $3,000-$5,000 estimate to attain $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2021. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

While Kåge’s between-wars and World War II-era pieces may have been more restrained, by the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was more explorative and kept refining his techniques. Even after he officially retired as Gustavsberg’s artistic director in 1949, he kept designing. A circa-1956 Fasta Spirea vase achieved $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Wright in June 2021, a sum well above its $3,000-$5,000 estimate. This 12 ¾-in tall vase not only boasted a fine overall patterned and textured surface, but was distinguished by its scale and its expressive nature.

Kåge’s highly artistic Farsta pieces tend to bring the highest prices for his work. His circa-1954 Farsta Dragonfish vase sported a surrealistic design, showing a fish turning into a vase. An example realized $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022 at Wright.

This circa-1954 Farsta Dragonfish vase by Wilhelm Kåge reflects how the ceramicist was continually evolving his technique and style. The surrealist vase realized $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.
This circa-1954 Farsta Dragonfish vase by Wilhelm Kåge reflects how the ceramicist was continually evolving his technique and style. The surrealist vase went for $9,500 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Wright and LiveAuctioneers.

Later and more utilitarian Kåge pieces can be acquired for just a few thousand dollars. A pair of circa-1960 Farsta footed bowls were a good buy at €2,000 ($2,155) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020 at Piasa. At the same auction house one year later, a Farsta decorative vase in a pleasing shade of blue sold for €2,200 ($2,370) plus the buyer’s premium.

A pair of Farsta footed bowls by Wilhelm Kåge was a good buy at €2,000 ($2,155) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.
A pair of Farsta footed bowls by Wilhelm Kåge was a good buy at €2,000 ($2,155) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.

A master of color, Kåge often favored earthy tones and blues. His Argenta series was firmly focused on a shade of blue-green, but in his Farsta works, he played around with color combinations. One fruit of his experiments was a green mottled glazed funnel-form vase that had black, blue, and amber speckles, and a ridged base. It went out at $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024 at Lion and Unicorn.

This mottled green Farsta vase by Wilhelm Kåge secured $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers.
This mottled green Farsta vase by Wilhelm Kåge secured $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2024. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers.

Kåge’s legacy as a ceramics artist lies in his inventive glazes, forms, and decoration. His collectibility is also far-ranging. From cutting-edge surrealist pieces to fully functional goods for the home, Kåge personally delivers on the venerable notion that there is something for everyone.