For most people, Danish design evokes the functional pieces created in the mid-20th-century Danish Modern period by such luminaries as Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl and the various others influenced by the German Bauhaus school.
But Denmark as a design hub was important even before these figures hit the world stage: two of its greatest design houses, Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen were founded in 1775 and 1904 respectively.
The former, renowned for its classic Blue Fluted china, was founded by the chemist Frantz Heinrich Müller. Inspired by the blue-and-white porcelain exported from China during the Ming and Qing dynasties, he had to discover for himself how to make the necessary white glaze; Blue Fluted was the first pattern produced.
In 1790 the company brought out its famous Flora Danica dinner service, with floral motifs and gilded edges. The initial service was commissioned on behalf of King Christian VII of Denmark as a gift for Empress Catherine II (Catherine the Great) of Russia, and it is still a favourite of royal families today.
The Blue Fluted design is also still in production, and, like all Royal Copenhagen pieces, still moulded, painted, fired, glazed and packed by hand. This is not to say that the company has not moved on.
Dining in style
The Danish Modern period saw dinner services and individual pieces being created by artists such as Thorkild Olsen, Axel Salto and Henning Koppel. The original Blue Fluted was updated in 2000 for the 225th anniversary of the company; a young design student named Karen KjældgårdLarsen took the old pattern and gave it fresh impact by enlarging certain details – the new version is sold as Blue Fluted Mega.
In 2008 the house launched the Elements service, designed by Louise Campbell, one of Denmark’s leading designers. She drew on Blue Fluted, Flora Danica and Half Lace (another traditional design), and altered the colours to create something radically new that nonetheless has its roots in the past. This is an important ethos for the company, which has kept the original models and moulds of each piece since its factory was founded to allow pieces to be recreated.
Georg Jensen also spent some time working with ceramics when he was studying art, and he took artistic ideals back with him to metalsmithing, setting out to create democratic designs that were both functional and beautiful: demonstrating that the values associated with Danish design were present long before the Bauhaus made them fashionable. Art nouveau was the desirable look of the day and Jensen injected it with a distinctive vigour that continues to resonate today.
Jensen himself designed the legendary Magnolia Blossom cutlery set, the decorative handles offset by the clean curves of the heads of the pieces. Those same clean curves can be seen in sets such as Caravel and New York, both designed by Henning Koppel (who also designed for Royal Copenhagen) in 1957 and 1963, and particularly in Vivianna, designed by Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe in 1996. But although these designs pay homage to Jensen’s originals, they equally look perfectly modern and contemporary, something that can be seen across the entire Georg Jensen collection.
Crafting the future
‘Our home products today strongly resonate our exceptional heritage of superior craftsmanship and timeless design,’ explains Louise Langkilde, vice-president, home, Georg Jensen. ‘Original hollowware silver pieces have, for instance, been reinvented with the use of other materials such as stainless steel, and in all our products for the home you will clearly see the inspiration from the design philosophy of the mastersmith Georg Jensen himself: the organic forms and shapes, the simplicity and elegance of the design as well as a focus on functionality. This is what constitutes the uniqueness of our brand.’
In his book Dansk Design, Thomas Dickson muses on the driving force in Danish design and notes that ‘Danish design has always been part of the collective movement’ – this collective principle seems relevant here. Henning Koppel designed for both Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen. Arne Jacobsen created a set of cutlery for Georg Jensen, and examples of his Series 7 chairs were decorated both by Royal Copenhagen and Georg Jensen in 2005 to be auctioned for charity. This ability to cross decades and centuries makes these longstanding Danish design houses great. They embrace the future as much as they celebrate the past.