The lost generation of Danish design

Among Danish design aficionados and dealers, three currently obscure mid-century designers are touted as comers:

• Hans Olsen. The Copenhagen-trained designer had a talent for both sexy and eyecatching designs—such as his 1961 bent-plywood Bikini chair (Fig. 4) and his 1956 Fried Egg chair (Fig. 1)—as well as for practical, space-saving pieces. “Olsen really captured the essence of organic design, but he also knew how to design for real life,” Kevelson says. “He made an expandable table in 1958 that sits on V-shaped struts or folds up like an accordion, and in 1964 he produced a dining table and chairs in which the seatbacks slip in to become part of the round table skirt” (Figs. 3a, 3b). No less a personage than Gio Ponti (1891–1949), in his magazine Domus, declared the latter design a “new classic.”9

• Illum Wikkelsø. The architect and designer had a wonderful sense of detail. He would place a saw-toothed joint in the seatback of a side chair (Fig. 5), lending a racy feel to a simple piece, or peel the arms away slightly from a chair to give it a sense of movement. The arms of his c. 1964 Barrel chair (Fig. 6) envelop the sitter, yet the piece is a model of precise joinery, in which a leather backrest pad is fitted into the chair with small tabs. In certain of Wikkelsø’s highly stylized modern pieces some detect a reference to Danish design of a thousand years past. Commenting on a coffee table with a glass top set on an X-shaped frame (Fig. 7), Malowanczyk says he sees in the wooden support a “form that reminds me of the bracing structure on which they built Viking ships.”

• Johannes Andersen. Excelling at seating furniture with dynamic detailing, Andersen can offer a jazzy “Martini Modern” air similar to that in the work of Vladimir Kagan. The effect can be aerodynamic—as on a wide, low-slung sofa on teak sleigh legs (Fig. 2), or an angular blond-wood coffee table (Fig. 9) perforated by a slot to hold magazines—or simply elegant, as a low rosewood table with gently arced and beveled sides (Fig. 8).

Designers and pieces such as these should help erase the stigma of Danish modern, while at the same time offer proof that there are many great Danes left to be rediscovered.

1 Takako Murakami, in his preface to Noritsugu Oda, Danish Chairs (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1999), p. 11.
2 Michael Ellison, introduction to Ellison and Leslie A. Piña, Scandinavian Modern Furnishings, 1930–1970: Designed for Life (Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, Pa., 2002), pp. 8–9.
3 Ibid., p. 9.
4 Ibid., p. 8; Oda, Danish Chairs, p. 18.
5 For examples of the work of these designers, see Oda, Danish Chairs, pp. 52–64, 26–40, 84–101, and 66–74.
6 For examples of the work of these designers, see Cara Greenberg, Op to Pop: Furniture of the 1960s (Little Brown, Boston, 1999).
7 Ellison, in Ellison and Piña, Scandinavian Modern Furnishings, p. 12.
8 See Twentieth-century Decorative Art and Design, Christie’s, New York, March 29, 2007, lot 225; Twentieth Century Design, Sotheby’s, New York, March 28, 2008, lot 68; and Los Angeles Modern Auctions sale, June 29, 2008, lots 7, 23.
9 Domus, May 1964, from The Complete Domus, ed. Charlotte and Peter Fiell (Taschen, Köln, 2006), vol. 5, p. 463.

GREGORY CERIO is a regular contributor to Antiques.

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by Émile Jacques Ruhlmann (1879-1933), 1926. Macassar ebony, amaranth, and ivory. Metropolitan Museum of Art. By Cynthia Drayton

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