Denmark 50

Hans Wegner
1914 -


Nanna Ditzel
Fritz Henningsen  
Poul Henningsen  
Peter Hvidt  
Arne Jacobsen  
Grete Jalk  
Finn Juhl  
Jacob Kjaer  
Poul Kjaerholm  
Kaare Klint  
Borge Mogensen  
Verner Panton  
Arne Vodder  
Ole Wanscher  
Hans Wegner  

Born 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.

Though 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 work.
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.

Perhaps 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.

Like 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.

Wegner’s 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.