This brief but indelible 1920’s design style has again caught the eye of collectors almost a century later.

What began as an architectural movement soon grew to encompass all fields of the arts, most notably furniture design

One of the most forgotten golden eras of 20th-century design would have to be Sweden in the 1920s and the fleeting style that was to become known as Swedish Grace. The term, which roughly translates as a form of Art Deco, was coined by British art critic Philip Morton Shand to identify the graceful and unmistakably Swedish design that first made its appearance at the Gothenburg Exhibition of 1923. Far more restrained than its French cousin, Swedish Grace tended toward Neoclassicism (historically the most enduring influence in Scandinavian design), pared back and reinvented by a bright new generation of artists, architects and designers. Now Swedish Grace has once again caught the eye of sophisticated collectors, drawn to a small but exquisite body of work defined by its balance, delicacy of form and perfect proportion — qualities, while steeped in antiquity, that form the cornerstone of the Scandinavian modern we know today.

New York antiques dealer James Harrison of HM Luther describes Swedish design from the first half of the 20th century as “fascinating and underappreciated”. Grounded in Scandinavian humanism and the commitment to social improvement via good design, what began as an architectural movement soon grew to encompass all fields of the arts, most notably furniture design. Paradoxically, pieces from
this period were undeniably luxurious and superbly handcrafted by skilled artisans for Sweden’s elite, a spirit very much in keeping with its profoundlyaristocratic heritage. “The craftsmanship andattention to detail is as good as you’d see in the top pieces coming from France,” Harrison claims, also pointing out the subtle differences between French Art Deco and its lesser-known Northern counterpart. “The Swedes tend to have less showy pieces — they are a bit more protestant in their taste.”

It was at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs — the showcase for what has become known as Art Deco — that Swedish design made its international breakthrough. The Swedish Pavilion took the form of a neo-Greek temple designed by acclaimed architect Carl Bergsten, with furniture by Gunnar Asplund and Carl Malmsten, both pivotal figures within the movement. As one German critic wrote, “There was something very special which separated this pavilion from all the others.” then in 1927, heralded as a leading nation in craft and design, Sweden became the first country to exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, with Contemporary Swedish Decorative Arts. However, with design debates polarising by the end of the ’20s, after a decade of wandering along lovely Neoclassical byways, the Swedes abandoned their last vestige of nostalgia in favour of Funkis, or Functionalism. The last hurrah, so to speak, was the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and the series of sumptuous rooms designed by architect Axel Einar Hjorth for exclusive Stockholm department store Nordiska Kompaniet.

Today, a select group of antiques and 20th-century dealers play a pioneering role in promoting this rare period of early modern design. In 2006, Paris dealer Eric Philippe combined forces with designer par excellence Pierre Yovanovitch to exhibit Axel Einar Hjort and Swedish Grace and in late 2014, the Swedish dealers Jacksons unveiled an exhibition in their Berlin gallery showcasing an eclectic assemblage of magnificent ’20s Swedish design.

“I’m fascinated by the beauty of Nordic style and savoir-faire,” proclaims Yovanovitch, adding that Swedish Grace pieces find their place “quite naturally” in his contemporary interiors. “I love the sober splendour of this furniture: the sleek design, perfect craftsmanship and inventive, sophisticated alliance of materials. Swedish Grace is very singular, and absolutely timeless.”