Throwing Their Lives Away
Rago’s Sarah Dziamba on the Legacy of Otto and Gertrud Natzler
23 May 2016
Ahead of our June Design Auctions we sat down with Sarah Dziamba, Jr. Specialist in our 20th/21st C. Design department, to explore the domestic and creative partnership of Otto and Gertrud Natzler.
Here’s what Sarah had to say…
One of my favorite parts of my job is handling Natzler ceramics. I fell in love with their work the first time I held one of their vessels during my first auction cycle at Rago. Otto and Gertrud’s story is equal parts interesting and awe-inspiring. Both were born and raised in Vienna, where they met in the 1930’s and soon developed a mutual interest in ceramics. They took throwing lessons for a little over a year, then set up their own studio and taught themselves – through a great deal of experimentation – how to make and glaze vessels.
Their division of labor was based on their strengths: Gertrud threw incredibly thin, balanced, and beautiful vessels, while Otto created and applied just the right glaze to each of her works. Not long after the Nazis invaded Austria, the Natzlers fled to Los Angeles where they quickly became represented by major galleries and garnered well-deserved attention and praise for their work. My appreciation for their ceramics grew as I learned more about Otto and Gertrud. They were not just devoted, tireless and imaginative artists; they were a couple very much in love who had a great deal of respect and admiration for each other’s talents. They worked together until Gertrud’s death in 1971, and it’s clear from an essay that Otto wrote in 1968
Work by the Natzlers is highly sought after and is considered among the very best in the realm of mid-century modern ceramics. Most were signed NATZLER in black ink, although some of the earliest pieces were signed G+O NATZLER. The Natzlers kept meticulous records and applied a paper label to each vessel they made. Many people mistakenly remove these labels: I implore you, leave them be! If your Natzler is signed with a number between 1 and 10,000 it is one of their earliest works, made between 1939 and 1948. Toward the end of 1948 they began using a one letter three number combination, which they used until Gertrud’s death.
Otto continued working after the loss of his wife, focusing mostly on slab-built vessels decorated with one of his over 2,000 glaze recipes. His ceramics have a raised square seal with his initials as well as a paper label, signed and dated in black ink. The most desirable Natzler works are their collaborative pieces, especially early bowls or vases with exceptional and bright glazes. If you’re looking to collect Natzler ceramics, be sure to take into consideration the condition; repairs are especially hard to detect on volcanic/crater glazes.
View all of the works by Otto and Gertrud Natzler on offer in our June Design Auctions here.