“By making this chair five times as expensive, three times as heavy, half as comfortable, and as quarter as beautiful, an architect can very well win himself a name.”
— Poul Henningsen (1894-1967), Danish author, architect and critic, in Kritisk Revy, December 1927
4 thoughts on “Harmless Christmas Pamphlet, 1927”
PH was a proponent of Early Modernism and important the development of Danish Modern architecture. As you have been pointing out with you Kaare Klint posts, it was a style not quite as radical as Bauhaus, Corbusier or the Italian Futurists. It’s definitely both more organic and more in tune with traditional furniture. Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen, most prominently set out to “democratize” high quality furniture without loosing sight of the importance of tactility and graceful aging of the furniture – while, arguably, Arne Jacobsen embraced the industrial more fully.
Klint was, by the way, himself strongly inspired by the Shakers.and by traditional Japanese aesthetics.
The posted picture is accompanied by a humorous rant against what PH saw as the snobbiness of the Danish craft industry at the time – content to sell overpriced, oppulent furniture, silverware and porcelain to wealthy American and Japanese buyers – rather than going with the trend in other countries of developing pleasing, functional and affordable furniture for all the people.
From our vantage point we can see that the Danish furniture industry DID eventually shift to this stance as well – helped by the beautiful designs of Wegner, Jacobsen, Poul Kjaerholm and Børge Mogensen and others. It was, needless to say, quite a success.
If you need the full text translated, or if you want help researching locally here in Copenhagen, I’d be glad to help.
I found a three leg chair designed by Simon Watts included in his 1983 book Building A Houseful of Furniture. His chair was less successful than he wished. He did believe that the design would work with a few tweaks. I am not sure if the three legs would make it any better to juggle while pulling on a heater.
Since this an interesting look into the debates surrounding the shift of furniture from high-brow to lowbrow, I have made a quick free-hand translation for anyone interested.
A word of warning:
Danish humour can be notoriously difficult to decode; The authour deliberately adopt the paroles and language of more fervent movements, though he didn’t agree with them (we’re a pretty lukewarm people, after all), but the thrust of his critique is still aimed at snobbishness – not at the classless ideal. It should be read tongue-in-cheek.
“This chair solves its purpose to the fullest: The light, low-backed armchair – suitably comfortable. It weighs 7 pounds, exactly like a new-born child. The price is 16 kroner and 50 with a cane seat. By making this chair five times as expensive, three times as heavy, half as comfortable and a fourth as beautiful, an architect could win a name for himself.
What is the modern craft industry? We’re a small democratic nation. Danish beer and red Aalborg schnapps is victorious in all levels of society and throughout the world. We are dressed the same. The men in soft hats, soft collars, rain coats. The women equally chic, equally simple. But the entire craft industry in the modern sense is dead – strangled by gross speculation in the poor tastes of the world: Danish porcelain, Danish silverware. By what right do these manufacturers time and time again – supported by the government – fly the flag of snobbery and of the luxurious, precious abroad? All other countries have a classless, typical craft industry; and were we in harmony with ourselves and our abilities, we would make a world class effort of classless things, and would stop the compromising, government-supported, hunt from America to Japan after the last thousand rich people on earth.
No luxurious art can be sustained in opposition to the best movements of our time, no matter how much the government will support it. But if we devote ourselves unpretentiously and in agreement with the disposition of our people, then we may be an inspiration to all and the world will be open to us.
Look yet again at the chair above. It is absolutely and completely without defect. Its shape is harmonious, stringent. It does not appear phony or deceitful. It enters its service to society with the same commitment to duty that we expect from the good citizen. What more do you want from a chair? Should it also flash a nobleness which you yourself do not posses? Should it vaunt an education and tax bracket that you cannot claim yourself? Don’t demand of your chair, what you yourself would be ashamed of in polite company.”
I am a happy owner of “Håndvaerket`s Kulturhistorie” (The culture history of hand working). Any hope for an english translation in future?
Comments are closed.