in 1914, Hans Wegner is perhaps Denmark’s best-known
furniture designer. Wegner began his long career at age 14,
as a craftsman, namely as an apprentice to a local cabinet-maker.
Within four years he had become a journeyman joiner, and in
another four -- evidently not entirely happy making things
to the designs of others -- he enrolled at the Institute of
Technology in Copenhagen. Wegner's education continued at
the prestigious School of Arts and Crafts, where he studied
under Molgaard Nielsen. After graduating, Wegner served a
brief stint at the design office of Arne Jacobsen. Finally,
in 1943, he opened his own design office.
Wegner designed for series production, all of his work bears
the unmistakable stamp of the traditionally-trained craftsman.
It is, in fact, the reconciliation of craftsmanship with industry,
and thus, necessarily, of tradition with modernity, which
informs so many of the recurrent themes of Wegner’s
One such is that of the Windsor chair. This largely 18th century
Anglo-American form, re-worked for 20th century taste as well
as Danish mass-production, is the basis of Wegner’s
famous “Peacock” chair of 1947, as well as (in
much-modified form) his “Hoop” chair of 1965.
Each of these designs perfectly transposes the “Windsor-ness”
of its historical precedents into something wholly contemporary,
as well as being suited for factory production.
the most persistent Wegnerian theme is that of the Chinese
chair. The gracefully-curved top rails and spare construction
of the traditional Chinese chair, particularly those of the
Ming dynasty, had long fascinated Wegner. The elegance of
Ming chair design was achieved through simplicity, not ornament
-- as was the case with most European furniture of the 17th
century. Like the Windsor chair, the Ming chair is an example
of a traditional design that in its “honesty”
and reduction of form apparently anticipates modernity.
the Windsor chair, the Ming chair inspired Wegner to greatness:
the “Chinese” chair of 1943, and the “Y-Chair”
of 1950 are the most obvious examples, but the finest instance
of Chinese influence can be found in a 1949 classic called
simply “The Chair.” This iconic masterpiece has
become emblematic of Scandinavian modernism, and ably demonstrates
its designer’s patient search for perfection.
prolific output is legendary, and so is his versatility. While
it is natural that a man trained as a joiner would most naturally
be drawn to fine wood as a medium, Wegner’s genius in
other materials is no less original than his work in wood.
The steel and cord “Flagline” lounge chair of
1950 is not only an innovative (even futuristic) configuration
for a chair; it is also one that owes nothing to the techniques
of carpentry. It is as brilliant in its “steel-ness”
as Wegner’s other designs are in their “wood-ness”.
Its construction pays homage to the engineering qualities
of steel while drawing visual dynamism from the use of steel.
The soft bits; the cord, pillow, and optional sheepskin throw
-- all contribute textures that accentuate the steel’s
contours through contrast. In common with the best of Danish
furniture, it succeeds as pure sculpture as fully as it succeeds
as a useful domestic object.