Danish Modern Furniture

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2015-06-26 10:53:30

Danish modern furniture, frequently capitalized as Danish Modern, is a vintage style of minimalist wood furniture from Denmark associated with the Danish design movement.

In the 1920s, Kaare Klint embraced the principles of Bauhaus modernism in furniture design, creating clean, pure lines based on an understanding of classical furniture craftsmanship coupled with careful research into materials, proportions and the requirements of the human body. With designers such as Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner and associated cabinetmakers, Danish furniture thrived in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Adopting mass-production techniques and concentrating on form rather than just function, Finn Juhl contributed to the style's success, especially in the United States where there has recently been a renewal of interest.

Background

Between the two world wars, Kaare Klint exerted a strong influence on Danish furniture making. Appointed head of the Furniture Department at the Architecture School of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, he encouraged his students to take an analytical approach, adapting design to modern-day needs. Adopting the Functionalist trend of abandoning ornamentation in favour of form, he nonetheless maintained the warmth and beauty inherent in traditional Danish cabinet making as well as high-quality craftsmanship and materials.

The development of modern Danish furniture owes much to the collaboration between architects and cabinetmakers. Cabinetmaker A. J. Iversen, who had successfully exhibited furniture from designs by architect Kay Gottlob at the Paris World Exhibition in 1925, was instrumental in fostering further partnerships. In 1927, with a view to encouraging innovation and stimulating public interest, the Danish Cabinetmakers Guild organized a furniture exhibition in Copenhagen which was to be held every year until 1967. It fostered collaboration between cabinetmakers and designers, creating a number of lasting partnerships including those between Rudolph Rasmussen and Kaare Klint, A. J. Iversen and Ole Wanscher, and Erhard Rasmussen and Børge Mogensen. From 1933, collaboration was reinforced as a result of the annual competition for new types of furniture, arranged each year prior to the exhibition.

In the postwar years, Danish designers and architects believed that design could be used to improve people's lives. Particular attention was given to creating affordable furniture and household objects that were both functional and elegant. Fruitful cooperation ensued, combining Danish craftmanship with innovative design. Initially the furniture was handmade but, recognizing that their work would sell better if prices were reduced, the designers soon turned to factory production. Interest in Danish Modern in the United States began when Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. from the Museum of Modern Art purchased some items for the Fallingwater home designed byFrank Lloyd Wright.. This ultimately led to mass production in the United States too.

The scarcity of materials after the Second World War encouraged the use of plywood. In the late 1940s, the development of new techniques led to the mass production of bent plywood designs by Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen, both of whom produced chairs with a teak plywood seat and back on a beech frame. In 1951, Arne Jacobsen went even further with his sculptural Ant Chair with a one-piece plywood seat and back, bent in both directions. Collapsable chairs dating from the 1930s include Kaare Klint's Safari Chair and propeller stools which were also developed by Poul Kjærholm and Jørgen Gammelgaard.

Finn Juhl's home in Charlottenlund just north of Copenhagen has been preserved as he left it with the furniture he designed. Other major contributors to Danish Modern include Mogens Koch, Verner Panton, Jørn Utzon, Hans J. Wegner and Grete Jalk. Examples of their work can be seen at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen. Of particular note are Mogensen's Sleigh Chair, Jacobsen's Swan and Juhl's sculptural wood-frame seats. One of Wegner's works was used by Nixon andKennedy in a 1960 televised debate and is now known simply as The Chair.

Collecting information

Major proponents

Kaare Klint (1888—1954)
As a result of the furniture school he founded at the Royal Academy in 1924, Klint had a strong influence on Danish furniture, shaping designers such as Kjærholm and Mogensen. His carefully researched designs are based on functionality, proportions in line with the human body, craftsmanship and the use of high quality materials. Notable examples of his work include the Propeller Stool (1927), the Safari Chair and the Deck Chair (both 1933), and the Church Chair (1936).

Poul Henningsen (1894–1967)
Poul Henningsen, a self-taught inventor and true Functionalist, was an important participant in the Danish Modern school, not for furniture but for lighting design. His attempt to prevent the blinding glare from the electric lamp bulb succeeded in 1926 with a three-shade lamp, known as the PH lamp. The curvature of the shades allowed his hanging lamp to illuminate both the table and the rest of the room. He went on to design many similar lamps, some with frosted glass, including desk lamps, chandeliers and wall-mounted fixtures. Though he died in 1967, many of his designs have remained popular to this day.

Mogens Lassen (1901–1987)
In addition to his architectural work, Lassen was also a keen furniture designer. Influenced both by Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, he developed a unique approach to Functionalism. As a result of his fine craftsmanship and his search for simplicity, his steel-based furniture from the 1930s added a new dimension to the modernist movement. His later designs in wood still form part of classical Danish Modern, especially his three-legged stool and folding Egyptian coffee table (1940) originally produced by A. J. Iversen.

Arne Jacobsen (1902–1971)
Graduating from the Royal Academy in 1924, Jacobsen quickly demonstrated his mastery of both architecture and furniture design. With the completion of his Royal Hotel in Copenhagen and all its internal fittings and furniture in 1960, his talents became widely recognized, especially as a result of the chairs called the Egg and the Swan, now international icons. His stackable, three-legged Ant Chair (1952) with a one-piece plywood seat and back and its four-legged counterpart, the 7 Chair (1955), were particularly popular with worldwide sales in the millions.

Ole Wanscher (1903–1985)
Inspired by Kaare Klint under whom he had studied, Wanscher later followed in his footsteps as professor of the Royal Academy's furniture school. Particularly interested in 18th-century English furniture and in early Egyptian furniture, one of his most successful pieces was his delicately designed Egyptian Stool (1960) crafted from luxurious materials. Another successful item was his Colonial Chair in Brazilian rosewood.[15] He was awarded the Grand Prix for furniture at Milan's triennale in 1960.

Finn Juhl (1912–1989)
Though he studied architecture at the Royal Academy, Juhl was a self-taught designer as far as furniture was concerned. In the late 1930s, he created furniture for himself but from 1945 he became recognized for his expressively sculptural designs, placing emphasis on form rather than function, so breaking tradition with the Klint school. His successful interior design work at the UN Headquarters in New York spread the notion of Danish Modern far and wide, paving the way for the international participation of his Danish colleagues. Two key pieces of furniture, in which the seat and backrest are separated from the wooden frame, are his 45-Chair, with its elegant armrests, and his Chieftain Chair (1949).

Børge Mogensen (1914–1972)
After studying under Kaare Klint at the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts and at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Mogensen adopted Klint's approach to simple, functional furniture design. Taking an almost scientific approach to an item's functionality, most of his furniture is characterized by strong, simple lines and was designed for industrial production. Notable items include his oak-framed Hunting Chair (1950) with a strong leather back and seat, his light, open Spokeback Sofa (1945), and the low robust Spanish Chair (1959).

Hans Wegner (1914–2007)
After graduating in architecture in 1938, he worked in Arne Jacobsen and Eric Møller's office before establishing his own office in 1943. Striving for functionality as well as beauty, he became the most prolific Danish designer producing over 500 different chairs. His Round Chair (technically Model500) in 1949 was referred to as "the world's most beautiful chair" before being labelled simply The Chair after Nixon and Kennedy used it in a 1960 televised debate. His Wishbone Chair, also 1949, with a Y-shaped back split and a curved back and was inspired by a Chinese child's chair he had seen. A work of simplicity and comfort, it is still made today by the Danish firm Carl Hansen & Son. Wegner's designs can now be found in several of the world's top design museums including New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Grete Jalk (1920–2006)
After training as a cabinetmaker, she studied at the Danish Design School in 1946, while receiving additional instruction from Kaare Klint at the Royal Academy's Furniture School. Inspired by Alvar Aalto's laminated bent-plywood furniture and Charles Eames' moulded plywood designs, she began to develop her own boldly curved models in the 1950s. In 1963, she won a Daily Mirror competition wirh her He Chair and She Chair. With the help of furniture manufacturer Poul Jeppesen, she went on to design simpler models with clear, comfortable lines which became popular both in Denmark and the United States thanks to their competitive prices. Jalk also edited the Danish design magazine Mobilia and compiled an authoritative four-volume work on Danish furniture.

Verner Panton (1926–1998)
On graduating from the Royal Academy in 1951, Panton worked briefly with Arne Jacobsen. During the 1960s, he designed furniture, lamps and textiles with an imaginative combination of innovative materials, playful shapes and bold colours. Among his earliest designs were the Bachelor Chair and Tivoli Chair (1955), both produced by Fritz Hansen, but he is remembered above all for his Panton Chair (1960), the world's first one-piece moulded plastic chair. Sometimes referred to as a pop artist, unlike the majority of his colleagues, he continued to be successful in the 1970s, not only with furniture but with interior designs including lighting.

Poul Kjærholm (1929–1980)
In addition to an academic career at the School of Arts and Crafts and at the Institute of Design at the Royal Academy, Kjærholm always took full account of the importance of place a piece of furniture had in surrounding architectural space. Functionality took second place to his artistic approach which was centred on elegantly clean lines and attention to detail. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he worked essentially with steel, combining it with wood, leather, cane or marble. Kjærhom developed a close understanding with the cabinetmaker E. Kold Christensen who produced most of his designs. Today a wide selection of his furniture is produced by Fritz Hansen. Kjærholm's work can be seen in New York's Museum of Modern Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Exceptional sales

A pair of Poul Kjaerholm Danish Modern chairs sold for $9,375 at Sotheby’s in June 2012.

A Hans J Werger swivel chair sold for $23,750 at Sotheby’s in December 2012.

Six leather-upholstered Hans J Werger chairs sold for $22,500 at Christie’s in March 2012.

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