The Cathrineholm ironworks were founded in 1829 outside Halden in southern Norway and enjoyed their heyday in the 1960s and 70s. Cathrineholm initially made nails, ship chains and castings, in addition to bathtubs and agricultural implements. In 1907, the factory started up as an enamel works, producing contemporary enamelled kitchenware for many years until 1954, when Cathrineholm converted its coarse production in iron to fine production in steel – which quickly proved a success. It was also in 1954 that Cathrineholm started working with the young Norwegian enamel artist, Grete Prytz Kittelsen. Cathrineholm’s eyes were really opened to the talent of the successful artist when Grete Prytz Kittelsen impressed critics and the press at the international art and architecture exhibition, the Triennale, in Milan. Kittelsen and Cathrineholm worked together for years, designing and marketing the products we know and love today. The collaboration was not only hugely important to Grete Prytz Kittel’s career, but to Cathrineholm, too. Cathrineholm was synonymous with Grete Prytz Kittel’s designs – the stripes and lotus pattern were some of her most famous and beloved successes, but she was also an innovative designer who experimented with many forms, patterns and production methods. Cathrineholm and Grete Prytz Kittelsen were bang on trend in their day, with their different brightly-coloured designs.
The characteristic enamel bowls from Cathrineholm found their way into thousands of homes in the 1960s, particularly in Scandinavia and the US. Several of the products from Cathrineholm won gold at the Triennale in Milan in 1957. This level of success resulted in Cathrineholm having real problems delivering the quantity of items required to meet customer demand. The enamelled dishes, bowls and pans that Grete Prytz Kittelsen created for Cathrineholm are design icons and coveted collectibles today. Grete Prytz Kittelsen was associated with Cathrineholm until the factory closed in 1971. After the closure of the factory, the legendary Scandinavian design gem was consigned to oblivion, despite Kittelsen choosing in some cases to produce enamelware at other factories.
about the designer
Behind Cathrineholm’s massive success with enamel was goldsmith, enamel artist and designer, Grete Prytz Kittelsen (1917–2010), who was born into one of Norway’s leading and most recognised goldsmith dynasties, Tostrup. Grete Prytz Kittelsen was the fifth generation. It was clear from an early age that Grete Prytz Kittelsen had inherited her father’s and grandfather’s sense of design and innovative thinking. Her work with enamel in particular counts among Norway’s finest and has characterised Norwegian utility art and design history from 1945–65 to the present day.
The collaboration with Cathrineholm
The talent of the progressive female artist impressed far beyond the Norwegian borders, including at the Triennale in Milan in 1954, where critics and the press could not praise her designs highly enough. This did not go unnoticed at home in Norway at the Cathrineholm ironworks, which contacted the young designer shortly after her triumph in Milan. And so started the collaboration that would have such an impact on her career. The international highpoint of the collaboration was when several of the products from Cathrineholm won gold at the Triennale in Milan in 1957.
Grete Prytz Kittelsen rebelled against exclusion, snobbism, privilege and wealth. She was, in addition, a member of the Norwegian resistance during the Second World War, forcing her to flee to Sweden in 1943. She pursued the ideal of high quality at the most reasonable cost possible. Kittelsen’s enamelled kitchenware from Cathrineholm was, for her, the vision of creating beautiful, everyday design, accessible to all. Initially, her designs were more the reserve of a small elite, but with the enamelled iron and steel products from Cathrineholm, her vision was realised.
Born with an enamel spoon in her mouth
Grete Prytz Kittelsen was born in 1917 into a family known for its creativity and artisticness for generations. In 1945, she married the renowned Norwegian architect Arne Korsmo. The couple enjoyed a strong artistic partnership until their divorce in 1960. In 1949–50, they travelled to the US together, where Kittelsen studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago. Here, she became good friends with many of the great architects and designers of that day, such as Ray and Charles Eames, Mies Van De Rohe and Alvar Aalto. But two of the couple’s very closest friends were the world famous Danish architect, Jørn Utzon and his wife, Lis, with whom the Norwegian designer couple went on several study trips. Speaking about Grete Prytz Kittelsen, Jørn Utzon, among other things, said the following: “She is one of the 20th century’s most original and technically talented designers in Scandinavia.”
Several media have over the years hailed Grete Prytz Kittelsen as The Queen of Scandinavian design. And in the US, where Grete Prytz Kittelsen studied as a young woman, she was an established and highly regarded designer. In a portrait, American Vogue described her as a style icon with the words “One of the greatest Norwegian designers, famous internationally for her beautiful enamels”.
Grete Prytz Kittelsen died in 2010, aged 93. She died at her home designed by her former husband and architect Arne Korsmo on Planetvejen in Oslo. A house characterised by functionality and minimalism; visionary with sliding doors in glass and steel constructions.
The enamelled dishes, bowls and pans that Grete Prytz Kittelsen created for the Cathrineholm ironworks are design icons and coveted collectibles today.