Data sheet (pdf - 385 KB)

FINN J UHL , 1912 – 1989
a Danish , international
modernis t
According to his worst critics, Finn Juhl saw life as a cocktail
party. He was born into a well-off middle class family and was in
many ways larger than life – a man of the world, who provoked
the traditional Danish furniture designers.
As a young man, he dreamed of becoming an art historian.
His thorough understanding of the international art scene
of his time as well as older art history was central to his work.
He became one of the greatest furniture artists of the
20th century. He always stressed that he was self-taught
as a furniture designer, as he had trained as an architect –
a study he never had time to finish. He only designed a
couple of holiday homes and one villa as an architect, but
their layout was radically modern.
His own home from 1942 is one of the first Danish
villas to be designed from the inside out, the functionality
of the rooms determine the external design and one
of the first houses where the rooms flow seamlessly from
one to the next. Nonetheless it is the interior design, the
furniture and his holistic attitude to interior design, which
Juhl has become famous for.
Although some of his Danish colleagues saw him as a
“weather vane”, who blindly followed the winds of fashion, his
furniture, as well as his houses, were based on deep analyses of
the functionality of each component. His sofas, for instance,
are shaped to provide excellent support when one sits and
looks straight ahead, but also if two people are turned
to each other in conversation.
Juhl started his career as a furniture designer in the 1930s when,
contrary to his joiner-trained peers, he designed heavy, plush
furniture. In the beginning, his furniture was a strong contrast to
the trendsetting furniture professor Kaare Klint and his students’
rational, traditional and geometric designs. Juhl didn’t believe
in blindly passing on tradition, but let himself be inspired by
the modern art of his time. Not only did his furniture look like
sculptures by Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jean Arp and Erik
Thommesen – they were often also exhibited together with these
artworks. Also his interior designs were inspired by the sculptor’s
contemplations on free and static movement. His early furniture
sculptures were shaped like big mammals. Juhl saw himself as a
modernist and thus succumbed to modernism’s demand of honest
constructions, reflecting the form in their function.
took pride in making both the structurally supportive
elements of the furniture and the seated person look as
though they are floating. In some of his chairs, the backrest
and the seat are almost invisibly joined, as if they were
clouds floating through the room. As modernism prescribes,
Juhl used the corbel method, where surfaces cover the
carrying element. He became known for his special ability
to separate the carried and the carrying elements.
Upholstered furniture as such had been heavily criticized since
the breakthrough of modernism in the 1920s because it hid its
construction. In the first decades of the 20th century Central
European modernists like Gerrit Rietveld and Marcel Breuer
completely denounced upholstery while favouring bare, geometric
constructions which looked like scaffolding or sitting machines.
In one of his main pieces the Chieftain Chair from 1949, the
armrest and seat were cut free so the organic, delicately
upholstered surfaces seemed to float. The chair, which
had elements reminiscent of aboriginal tools, became a turning
point for Juhl. Spearheaded by Juhl and Hans J. Wegner’s
furniture from the same year, 1949 marked the break
through for Danish design in the USA.
Although Juhl aligned himself along early modernism,
he actually only ever designed one chair without upholstery.
During the 1940s Juhl acknowledged that the voluminous
upholstered furniture didn’t fit into the small flats of the
time. Simultaneously he sought to lay bare the construction
principle of furniture. He discovered, that what makes a chair
comfortable is not necessarily the thickness of the upholstery
but more importantly that the upholstered surfaces give
support in the right places.
Like other modernistic pioneers, Juhl started from scratch
without role models. He designed by analysing how the
individual components of the chair should carry the human
body. But contrary to his modernist contemporaries, with their
strictly stream-lined, open, scaffolding structures, Juhl thought
that furniture should have what he called animalistic pleasing
character like Egyptian furniture design. Juhl translated
the bare construction into organic form like in his 44 chair,
also called the “Bone Chair”. The potential strength of the
material was utilised to the maximum just like in nature’s own
constructions, which have most volume where necessary.
The geometric, industrial-aesthetic modernism in steel
and straight lines, Juhl translated into daring, supple joinery
which put enormous demands on the joiners who where
to produce the design. Each element of the design flowed
seamlessly into each other. Like other early modernists, Juhl
Juhl represented one end of the scale in the Danish
post-war version of modernism: Danish Design. In terms
of shape and form he was the most daring, bordering on
almost surreal organic modernism. Danish furniture design
had a strong break through internationally at a time when
almost all other countries had abandoned the craftsmanship
tradition and embraced industrial mass production.
Most of the Danish chairs were inspired by historic prototypes,
and so were Juhl’s to some extent. The Chieftain Chair, for
instance, was inspired by the backrest construction of Egyptian
chairs. But the thing that set Juhl’s designs apart was an extremely
sophisticated craftsmanship which didn’t look like anything a
machine could produce – a completely bio-morph creation, which
made a chair appear like a living sculpture in the room.
Finn Juhl’s artistic furniture designs hit solar plexus,
particularly in the USA where the post-war period was
characterized by a search back to the sensory qualities of
craftsmanship and towards more human, organic shapes. Juhl’s
furniture was also produced in alternative wood materials:
cedar, maple, nut and Brazilian rosewood. However, it was Juhl’s
use of teak, which became a turning point. Before Juhl, teak
was primarily used for outdoor furniture, but with Juhl as its
standard-bearer, the warmth of teak moved into the living rooms
and became synonymous with new optimism and freedom.
The American avant-garde easily understood Juhl’s
dionysian, dynamic lines. It was after all the Americans who
had introduced the streamlined design of the 1930s. But
Juhl stayed within the ideal of European modernism’s idealistic
principles of honest, transparent constructions. His supple
shapes were anything but stylised and decorative.
In the post-war period, European modernism lived on
among the American art elite, which Juhl became part of
through his friendship with Edgar Kaufmann Jr, the then
Director of the Industrial Design department of the
Museum of Modern Art in New York. Not only were Juhl’s
own designs an important exponent of Danish Design abroad,
he also designed important travelling exhibitions on Danish
design in the USA. Juhl also completed several prestigious
interior design projects abroad, most notably the Trusteeship
Council Chamber at the United Nations’ building in New York.
Similar to his daring choice of material and shape, his use
of colour was revolutionary. Like the early international
modernists, he wasn’t afraid of making a sensory impact – also
in this area he was different from his Danish contemporaries
known for their discreet, almost ascetic attitude to colour.
Textile or painted surfaces in Juhl’s designs created a contrast
to the natural wood. Furniture, as well as interiors, was
strongly expressive in the choice of colour.
Juhl’s furniture speaks loudly and prompts adoration
because it possesses an incredible lightness and sculptural
elegance beyond its own time. Juhl was the main exponent
of the organic variety of international modernism.
He was a Danish designer, who communicated the sensory
qualities of wood and his love of finding inspiration in
nature and history to the rest of the world. Contrary to
most Danish design, his furniture is not pragmatic and
sensible but saturated with a grand and exclusive zest for life.
It speaks of an originality, individualism and freedom, which
most of the world can appreciate today.
Christian Holmsted Olesen
Curator, Designmuseum Danmark
109 Chair
p oe t sofa
57 sofa
japan chair
4 6 chair
1946 / 1953
4 6 Sofa
4 4 chair
chief tain chair
K aufm ann Table
baker sofa
45 Chair
500 Table
Tr ay table
Pelic an chair
108 chair
cock tail Table
Nyhavn Table
e ye Table
Ross Table
[email protected]
Showroom Copenhagen
Nordre Toldbod 25
DK-1259 København K
Showroom Ringkøbing
Østergade 11
DK-6950 Ringkøbing
Design: Michael Weber, Photos: Andreas Weiss, Location: Ordrupgaard Museum,
Onecollection A/S
Vesterled 19
DK-6950 Ringkøbing
Phone +45 702 771 01
Fax +45 702 771 02