Lenci: History of an Italian Manifacture
Fabio Noli 8 February 2019

The story of the illustrious Turinese doll and ceramics manufacture


Nostalgia – Lenci, 1935 ca


The beginnings and success



The brand “Ars Lenci” was registered n Turin on 23 April 1919, a symbolic date that gives a specific time frame to an activity that had been started some time earlier by Helen Konig, wife of the owner Enrico Scavini.  Helen began to create rag dolls as a therapeutic activity after her daughter’s premature death. Scavini transformed this pastime into a true business, devising a system to steam-press the felt layers used by Helen in creating the dolls, within metallic molds. The origin of the name Lenci also derives from Scavini’s wife, from a wordplay on Helen’s nickname (her father called her Elenchen and as a little girl she mangled it into “Lenci”)
The commercial venture of the dolls designed by Scavini, in collaboration with artists Sandro and Emilio Vacchetti, within the Lenci brand, thus began in Italy, between the two wars. The dolls quickly gained nation-wide success thanks to their excellent manufacture and soon Lenci products were being distributed on an International level: in addition to Europe, the dolls were successful in the United States, in Japan and Australia.
Ceramiche Lenci
La studentessa – Helen Konig Scavini



In 1923, the first Lenci boutique opened in Milan, in the Galleria, and in the same year the dolls began to be displayed in International Art Festivals and Exhibitions. Lenci’s success in those years was mainly owed to the elegance and finesse with which the dolls were painted. Their growing accomplishment and popularity were owed to the quality of the artists and technicians such as Giovanni Spertini, previously active in Lavenia with Andloviz, Lionello Franchini, and Clare Burchart, ceramist for Rosenthal, but also to the presence of an immense heritage of sketches, drawings and outlines created by the involved collaborators, such as Marcello Dudovich, then transformed into ceramics.
The enormous artistic success and the value acquired by the dolls also had a boomerang effect: since 1925, Lenci imitations appeared on the market. Fortunately, the idea of creating a new ceramic product was already being developed within the Turinese company.
However, the true stepping stone for the company was the exhibition, in 1929, of ninety-five pieces at the Galleria Pesaro in Milan; this occasion raised the critique’s interest. Many positive reviews of the ceramics were published, especially by the Corriere della Sera. In September 1930, “Domus” devoted its title page to a product by the manufacture: Felice Tosalli’s “Cerbiatti” (Does), defined “…one of the most delightful ceramics created by Lenci”.
Il ratto di Europa – Abele Jacopi

The crisis


The positive critiques were, however, unable to save Lenci from the crisis deriving from the collapse of international markets, especially that of the US market in 1929.
From 1933 on, the Garella brothers took over Lenci’s management, completely acquiring its ownership in 1937 and embarking on a less innovative and groundbreaking management, though still relying on its main artists: Mario Sturani, Felice Tosalli, Gigi Chessa and Abele Jacopi. In the same period, Sandro Vacchetti founded a new manufacture, Essevi.
Lenci, 1935
Helen Konig Scavini, after handing over the business to the Garella brothers in 1937, was hired by the company as an artistic director for five years; in 1938 her husband and former partner passed away and in 1941 she ceased her activity as a ceramist. She passed away in Turin in 1974.
In the last period of the production, few new high-level pieces were created, such as Mamma Sirena, based on Helen Konig’s drawing; and the company mainly focused on restating the best-known pieces, combining them with regional costumes and with modern Walt Disney characters.

Lenci’s great artists


Nella – Helen Koning Scavini


True market-leading masters of ceramics moved their steps in the company, starting from founder Helen Koning and including sculptors, lithographers, painters, publicists who devoted a part of their career to these refined ceramics. Worth mentioning among the most significant are:
Sandro Vacchetti: In 1919 he began to model the heads for Lenci’s famous dolls. He became the artistic director of Lenci up to 1934, when he started his own manufacture, Essevi.
Felice Tosalli: in the late 1920s he began collaborating with Lenci, mostly designing figures of animals. Tosalli combines mythological inspirations with the German and Danish animalism of Rosenthal and Copenhagen.
Abele Jacopi: since 1934, he regularly worked for Lenci. Worth remembering is the statue he made for the Duomo di Milano of San Contardo Ferrini.
Gigi Chessa: skilled engraver and etcher, in 1922 he began collaborating with Lenci, for which he designed ceramics. Chessa was the one to set up Lenci’s booth at the Triennale di Monza in 1923, designing its carpetings and furniture as well.
Browse the Torino 1930-1950 Catalogue on cambiaste.com
Ceramiche Lenci
4 nudi femminili – Helen Konig Scavini (1886-1974)
Fabio Noli