enormous prestige that the Danish furniture
industry enjoyed in the post-war period was due in no
small part to the work of a quiet architect, born in
1912, named Finn Juhl. Though highly regarded as an
architect, especially as a designer of interiors
(including some of the chambers at the UN in New
York), Finn Juhl is best remembered as a brilliant
furniture designer. Any one of his many chair designs
(take your pick: the 1940 "Pelican", the 1945 "45",
the 1948 "Chieftain") would alone guarantee his
in the pantheon of modernism.
Finn Juhl's celebration of the organic would be
commonplace many years later, but his pioneering work
was rarely equalled. In particular, the Juhl style
separates the various structural elements of a given
piece of furniture in such a way that the tensions and
forces acting upon them are expressed dramatically.
His trademark, in chair design, was the delineation
between the "bearing" and the "borne";
between the framework of the chair, and the surfaces
that support the body (seat, back, arms). His great
invention was the "floating" seating surface (usually,
but not always, upholstered -- in contrast to the hard
wood of the "bearing" elements of the design).
Juhl's discovery of the sculptural possibilities
of wooden furniture came about as a response to
influences from outside the world of applied art. The
gentle biomorphism of surrealists like Jean Arp and
Joan Miro, and the primitive mystique of ethnographic
objects, informed Juhlís imagination and lent both
originality and power to his designs. This combined
with the Danish passion for craftsmanship to produce
furniture which was daringly unlike any seen before,
but at the same time, wholly part of the continuum of
first masterpiece was the "Pelican" chair,
designed in 1939, and produced in tiny numbers in
1940. This womb-like, upholstered chair is perhaps
the most prescient object created in the 20th century,
anticipating , as it does, the style of the ësixties.
In many of its details it seems more like a futuristic
Italian design from 1970! An extremely rare example
apperaed at auction recently, and brought a price
nearly as impressive as the chairís aesthetic
next masterpiece, though not 20 years ahead of
its time, did set the standard by which modern Danish
furniture is measured. The "45" chair, with its
elegantly sloping arms, was luxuriously hand-made and
yet completely modern. In quality of construction (as
with most of Juhlís early work, the "45"
by Niels Vodder of Copenhagen), and structural purity,
the "45" is still regarded as a high-water mark.
An even more potent icon of Danish modernism is
provided by Finn Juhl's most famous -- and
sought-after -- design: the "Chieftain" chair of
1948. This large and extravagent chair's throne-like
qualities, and the enthusiasm for it shown by the King
of Denmark, account for the "Chieftain" moniker.
Certainly fit for chieftains, it was destined to grace
the interiors of Danish embassies world-wide. Thus
fewer than eighty of them were produced, and are today
fought over by connoisseurs.
designs by Finn Juhl were more specifically designed
with the mass-market in mind, and though every bit as
beautiful and sturdy as the earlier classics, are
easier to find and more affordable. His work can be
collected and enjoyed at every level, and like much of
the best of Danish modernism, seems ageless.