top of page

Luxury Papers: Ugo Zovetti Senior (1879-1974)

Updated: Jan 24

Paper – the last luxury. So was titled the report by Baya Simons recently published on Financial Times Magazine, How To Spend it, arts special – autumn 2022.

The most quotidian of material, the journalist reported, is now a hot commodity again: the demand for high quality handmade paper produced for design, museum and fashion industries or artist’s studios has returned to pre-pandemic levels, despite rising energy costs, delays in the supply chain of materials and the transition of the publishing industry to a digital model.

The Paper Foundation is a 18th-century luxury paper mill operating from the United Kingdom, in Cumbria, and owned by Mark Cropper: Part of the Foundation’s intention today is not only to revive and keep alive the production of high quality bespoke handmade papers, created by using old Renaissance papermaking techniques (that represent the excellence in the field), but also to encourage people to “think about a material that they’ve completely taken for granted in their daily lives, but also in history”.

Yet there was a time when paper decoration applied to textile and wallpaper design, ceramics, furnishing or bookbinding was an integral and vital part of the visual arts. We are talking about the late 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century when The Arts and Crafts Movement by William Morris and, later, The Viennese Secession began a process of radical renewal of the artistic language in favor of the unity of the arts and a multidisciplinary approach.

"Intimately connected to the culture of books, decorated papers were introduced into 16th-century bookbinding for covers and endpapers and became very popular in the 19th and 20th centuries as one of the most fascinating examples of decorative art", says the art historian and researcher Cristina Costanzo.

Trained between 1901 and 1907 at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna under Joseph Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and Rudolph Von Larisch, Ugo Zovetti Senior is the artist who raised the art of paper decoration, fabric design and bookbinding to one of the highest levels.

His works are today in permanent major collections such as the library of the Museum für angewandte Kunste, Vienna, the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien, the archives of the Secession, Vienna, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, the Fondazione Cini, Venice, and the Achille Bertarelli Collection, Milan.

Zovetti's research into pencil and ink textile drawings and marbled papers - patterns made from ink, gums and pigments dissolved in water - was started in Austria and then continued throughout his long career in Italy, alongside an exhibition activity and a teaching activity at ISIA in Monza, main Italian institution for decorative arts applied to industry.

Below you can find a selection of Zovetti's papers from a private collection, and appreciate the evolution of his compositions and patterns - inspired by nature, geometry and even histological preparations - from approximately the 1912-1915 to the 1930's.

As the curator of Ugo Zovetti's Archive, Alberto Crespi, wrote: "From the analysis of his overall work, and going beyond the general features of his motifs, it can be argued that he was fondest of the sinuous brush stroke before 1900 and then returned to it in the 1910s, when it was often attenuated and enclosed in the order of a grid. Brush stroke and compositional type were therefore elegantly dimensioned and characteristically discrete, as was the chromaticism, tending more often to monochrome or modulated in carefully balanced combinations."

Ugo Zovetti Senior, ink and watercolour on paper, 1915 c. Private Collection

Ugo Zovetti Senior, Geometric composition with crossed ribbons on a black background. Private Collection

Ugo Zovetti Senior, Floreal composition on a violet background. Private Collection

Ugo Zovetti Senior, Marbled paper. Rippled Mineral Pattern. Private Collection

Ugo Zovetti Senior, Marbled paper. Acquatipo. Private Collection

For further information please refer to the following publications:

A. Crespi, Ugo Zovetti, 1879-1974: la donazione al comune di Monza: una raccolta di 70 carte decorate dalla Secessione viennese all'ISIA, Associazione amici dei musei di Monza, Monza, 2000

C. Costanzo, Ugo Zovetti and Book Decoration. A New Acquisition for the Fondazione Giorgio Cini. Drawings and Prints Cabinet. Fondazione Cini. Lettera da San Giorgio. Year XXII, number 43. Six-monthly publication. September 2020 – February 2021

Baya Simons. Paper - the last luxury. HTSI Arts, 2022

bottom of page