Danish crafts and decorative arts is of particular interest to Norway because Norway was under Danish rule for many centuries. The political community also entailed a cultural community, with Denmark as the leading and mediating party.
The king and court, and eventually a prosperous bourgeoisie, were important preconditions for more advanced crafts. All this was largely found in Copenhagen. There were most and most important craft booths from the 16th century onwards, and no distinction was made between artisans and performers. Not least in crafts with artistic requirements, contact between Denmark and Norway was very strong during and after the monarchy.
18th and 19th centuries
It was not until the 18th century that Denmark began to assert itself in a larger context. Magnus Berg attracted international attention with their carved reliefs and goblets in ivory. He was attached to the court and was Norwegian-born.
Within the ceramic area, Denmark has become very prominent. The first faience factory in the Nordic region, Store Kongensgade, was established in Copenhagen in 1722, and was followed by a long line throughout the century. When the Royal Porcelain Factory in Copenhagen started its business in 1779, Denmark gained a lasting spot in this prestigious branch of the art industry. Flora Danica – and straw pattern services, which were launched shortly after its founding, are still in production.
The cultural flourishing of the early 19th century is associated with a rich time in Danish furniture art, which then coincided with the empirical style and the Biedermeier. Here came a healthy, simple bourgeoisie characterized by exquisite craftsmanship.
Danish crafts and design became more refined as early as the 20th century. Denmark does not have natural access to raw materials, so the focus has been on developing and cultivating products. You have to this degree succeeded in the last century. In addition, the Danes are proficient in trade and invest heavily in reaching out to several markets. In the design industry, they succeeded particularly well after World War II. The United States was a particularly important market, where Denmark was able to manifest itself as a major design nation. A characteristic that was further consolidated under the concept of Scandinavian design.
In a refined form, the art of furniture resurrected a hundred years later. Kaare Klint was central, during a period when Danish furniture art conquered the world. Competitions and exhibitions organized by Copenhagen Snedkerlaug from the late 1920s became important. During the Scandinavian design period, Danish furniture architects played a key role. Names such as Finn Juhl and Hans Wegner and many other Danish furniture architects are represented in all representations of furniture art in the 20th century.
The architect Arne Jacobsen was a leading figure already in the 1920s. But it was with mass-produced furniture in laminated wood, such as Mauren and Syveren, that he reached out to a wide consumer market. The designer Verner Panton in many ways broke with Danish craft traditions and designed popular cultural and avant-garde furniture and interiors. He got a bigger hit internationally than in Denmark, as with the interior of Hotel Astoria in Trondheim.
In Denmark, like many other European countries, the style of youth was prevalent around the turn of the century 1900. Instead of Art Nouveau, the Danes used the term discretion as an interpretation of the style. It was used extensively in jewelery.
Around 1900 Thorvald Bindesbøll was the big star among Danish designers. He was a multilingual who worked with a number of reputable workshops and manufacturers. For the goldsmith A. Michelsen, he made a number of remarkable corpus works. The artichoke bowl (1898) is composed as an artichoke, as its name implies. But it is not a naturalistic embodiment, but rather a Japanese interpretation. One of Bindesbøll’s most progressive goldsmiths of all time is a vase with horizontal lightning covered by cloud formations. The expression is closest to the cartoon character.
In the goldsmith trade, Denmark can also pose with the world name Georg Jensen. Their corpus work in hammered silver created a style that was followed by other goldsmiths.
The company was established by Georg Jensen in 1904. He was a trained sculptor and worked for a period as a model engineer for Bing & Grondahl. Not long after its establishment, he was in demand by Copenhagen’s citizenship. At the same time, he was noticed in Germany. Jensen’s works were not very personal for the first time, but rather a cautious interpretation of the estimate style. Around 1920 he flourished and made several lavish corpus works in the New Baroque style. There he got to show his sculptural talent.
Several of Jensen’s employees were given a central role in Danish design and jewelery, most important of which were Johan Rohde, Sigvard Bernadotte and Kaj Boyesen. Rohde’s simple and timeless jug from the 1920s in neoclassical style was almost a precursor to functionalism.
Already at the age of 22, Hans Hansen opened his own business in Kolding. The workshop originally did mostly small things, like cutlery and jewelry. Cutlery Arves Silver gave the company a fantastic boost. He later hired Einar Olsen, a former jeweler at Georg Jensen, to design corpus works for him. Later, his son Karl Gustav Hansen went on to teach at Olsen. The early works reveal a certain influence of German modernism, such as Bauhaus school and designer Marianne Brandt. When his father died in 1940, he took over the business. Karl Gustav Hansen became one of Denmark’s foremost corpus designers during the coming decades. In the 1950s he made some of the most distinguished tea and coffee services in the Scandinavian design tradition. As the soft organic teapot he designed in 1952 which is now in the Kunstgewerbemuseum Zürich’s collections. During the period from 1953 to 1969 Bent Gabrielsen was head of the jewelry department.
Goldsmith’s art under Scandinavian design
After World War II, Danish goldsmiths also experienced a renaissance. Both manufacturers and designers were hungry to create new works, hinted at functionalism, but in a softer style.
For the company Carl M. Cohr, Hans Bunde designed several classics. One of the most famous is the vase from 1963 with a strong narrowing towards the middle and an elongated, arch-shaped opening. Otherwise, Henning Koppel was the one who manifested Danish corpus silver on the international market. When Koppel joined Georg Jensen in 1945, he renewed the company’s profile. World famous is the mustard The Pregnant Duck (1952) and Fiskefad (1954). Despite their “simple” shape, they are extremely difficult to make, as they are made up of a single silver plate. One of his most complicated corpus designs was a more than 70 centimeter long barrel (1956).
Georg Jensen’s youngest son, Søren Georg Jensen, was together with Koppel Georg Jensen’s most important corpus designer in the 1950s / 1960s. His works are more rigorous and influenced by the geometric design of modernism. They are often constructed over cylinder, bullet and circle.
In the 1900s, a number of high-profile jewelry designers were active. The first decades were Georg Jensen and Mogens Ballin leading. Ballin was inspired by both Bindesbøll and German Art Nouveau. This is also reflected in several works. For a few years he also did business with Siegfried Wagner. The latter’s jewelry shows great influence from German contemporary goldsmiths. In the interwar years, Danish jewelery lost some of the excitement, but there were exceptions. Karl Gustav Hansen’s modernist jewelry held a high standard.
However, the 1950s and 1960s were a highlight of Danish goldsmith’s art. With Danish designers such as Nanna Ditzel, Bent Gabrielsen, Vivianna Torun Bülow-Hübe and Bent Knudsen, Danish jewelry received a lot of attention. In addition, Henning Koppel designed several brooches and other jewelery that created renewed and renewed interest, both nationally and internationally. The 1970s and the coming decades were characterized by individualistic jewelery, such as by goldsmith designer Thor Selzer.
Allan Scharff – internationally recognized jeweler
As in most other countries, Denmark experienced a decline in interest in corpus silver from the 1960s onwards. But there are some goldsmiths who wanted to further develop the profession. One of the most interesting is Allan Scharff. He worked for Georg Jensen for a while, but has mainly had his own workshop. His design language is elegant and very precise. All angles and tension points are taken to the extreme. As a corpus designer, Scharff has had a special interest in making abstract interpretations of different birds. In 1993 he was awarded the European Craftsman of the Year Award by the World Crafts Council. In silver, Scharff, together with Hans Bunde and Bent Exner, has been one of the foremost.
Porcelain and ceramics
The underglaze painting was an important innovation in ceramics. This was launched by Arnold Krog at the Royal Porcelain Factory in the 1880s. It has since retained its popularity, which is also used by the porcelain factory Bing & Grondahl (founded in 1853). Many individual potters have worked both in these factories and partly in their own workshops. Big names are Axel Salto, Herman Kähler and Nathalie Krebs.
Danish glass has come into the picture strongly as Holmegaard Glasverk (founded in 1825) has taken up the production of artificial glass, led by Jacob Bang from 1925, followed by Per Lütken in 1941.
In the field of industrial design, Denmark has foremost marked itself with products for the home. Manufacturers such as Raadvad, Eva Solo, Louis Poulsen and Stelton are world-renowned brands that hold a high design and quality standard.
Poul Henningsen’s PH lamps
The designer and socialite Poul Henningsen revolutionized the lighting field in the 1920s. For the World Exhibition in Paris 1925 he created a collection based on his own analyzes of the scattering of light. The intention behind the investigations was to make lamps that provided good general illumination and which did not dazzle. The basic construction was based on a number of screens of different sizes and angles that distributed light evenly over a certain area. Within a few years Henningsen received international recognition for the lamps under the name PH.
In the interwar years there was a greater focus on hygiene and cleanliness. With the intake of electricity, the vacuum cleaner became more widespread. The company Fisker & Nielsen opened a factory for electric motors in 1906 and in 1910 they launched a vacuum cleaner. In 1922 came the Nilfisk L10 model, a long-handle torpedo-shaped vacuum cleaner. Their greatest success, on the other hand, was the Nilfisk G70 (1958). The vacuum cleaner is shaped like a small steel barrel with a long, movable hose. The basic design is recognizable to many of today’s Nilfisk vacuum cleaners. Fisker & Nielsen is also behind the motorcycle brand Nimbus.
Bang & Olufsen
The world-renowned electronics company Bang & Olufsen (B&O) was established in 1925. They immediately became one of the most significant radio producers in the expanding market. Their radio cabinet was more like a piece of furniture. In the 1930s, several models came in streamlined designs. The materials were typical – laminated wood and bakelite. Ever since its establishment, B&O has focused on striking designs. For almost three decades, Jacob Jensen was their leading designer, and with his minimalist products, B&O became world-renowned.
Acton and Bernadotte
After World War II, the design office of Acton Bjørn and Sigvard Bernadotte was leading. They were behind a number of classics, including the Margrethe bowl (1954) in impact-resistant melamine plastic. For Brdr. Carlsen designed the Contex-10 calculator in 1957. Contex became an international success and sold just under a million copies.
Design for the kitchen
Jens Quistgaard distinguished himself as a very versatile designer. His contributions to the art industry were great. Yet it is one of his most common designs that influenced the daily life of the Danes, a can opener (1950) for Raadvad, which due to its design was nicknamed the Shark Fin. Raadvad is an old industrial group, established in 1758. In the late 1800s, the production of bread cutters began. They were a great success and constantly came in new variants and were found in most Danish homes. Around 1952, the company Eva Solo developed a new bread cutter that could cut meat toppings and vegetables. With its organic design and contemporary colors, it became a serious competitor for Raadvad.
Bodum and Stelton
Other manufacturers that dominated the design of the kitchen are Bodum and Stelton. In 1974, Bodum launched the canister Bistro. For Scandinavians, it was a big news as they were otherwise used to brewing coffee or cooking coffee. Later, the coffee habits have changed and the company continues to make products adapted to the changes in the market. Stelton was established in 1960 and focused on quality products from the start. Arne Jacobsen’s Cylinda-line (1967) was launched after three years of product development. It indicates how carefully the company is perfecting the goods before they come on the market. Their most well-known product is Erik Magnussen’s thermal jug EM77, which was to complement Cylinda-line. They also produce several of Tias Eckhoffs cutlery. Another iconic product is Ole Jensen’s rubber sink, designed in 1996 and in production from 2002.
Denmark’s most famous design product, unparalleled, is Lego. The company was established in 1932, but it was only after World War II that the well-known plastic lego blocks were manufactured. A plastic spray machine was purchased in 1947 and in 1949 Lego building blocks were launched. It was not until 1958 that the Lego Block got the final shape it still has today. Gradually, Lego has been developed to include more qualified construction toys for children and adults of all ages. Today, Lego is one of the world’s largest toy manufacturers.
Art industry in Denmark today
It is the free-working artisans who dominate the art industry in Denmark today. The large factories have lost much of their position as innovators. Scandinavian design has also left its strong mark on Danish crafts. Even in recent production, one can clearly see the influence of the 1950s Scandinavian design language. Textiles, ceramics, silver and glass have simple shapes, usually decorated with stripes or squares.
The use of the objects is still important in the Danish crafts. Thus, there is an almost invisible boundary between crafts and design in Denmark, unlike in Norway, where this boundary is clear.
This anchoring in use helps to give the Danish craftsmanship a distinctive character. At a time when the international craftsmanship has moved away from usability and function, the Danish has emphasized precisely through this anchoring.