Nationalmuseum is Sweden’s art and design museum. The collections comprise of paintings,sculptures, drawings and prints from 1500–1900 and applied arts, designs and portraits from early Middle ages up until present day. Summer Design Week visited the museum at Blasieholmen, in the heart of Stockholm, to learn more about the furniture designer Finn Juhl, who’s collection was on display.
The name Finn Juhl may not be as much of a household name as Bruno Mathsson or Hans J. Wegner, especially given that he is described as something of an anonymous figure among the throng of classic Scandinavian furniture designers. “If you ask anyone who isn’t an insider, few people will mention Finn Juhl, which is why it was particularly fun to be able to do an exhibit focusing on his work”, says Susanne Eriksson, Curator at Nationalmuseum. Eriksson has curated the exhibition Finn Juhl: Furniture Architect, which contains furniture, handicrafts and art collected from Finn Juhl’s home in Ordrup, a home that he both designed and furnished in 1942. After Juhl’s death, the house was bought by a person who donated the property to the Ordrupgaard Museum in 2008. “To recreate the interiors of a house from 1942 in an exhibition hall from 1866 was extremely challenging”, says Eriksson. The exhibition has therefore been split into different tracks that tells the story of Finn Juhl’s career, illustrated with furniture he designed, works of art, handicrafts and huge photographs of Juhl’s home.
So who was this furniture designer?
Finn Juhl, 1912–1989, was a house architect. However, he only produced drawings for about ten houses, instead he became a leading furniture designer. Together with Master Cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, he produced furniture in smaller editions. “I think he was a huge perfectionist”, says Eriksson. Finn Juhl’s furniture is characterized by an extreme eye for details, as well as innovative design and combination of materials. The 1950s was a great period for Scandinavian design and Juhl enjoyed enormous success in the US. He was introduced to the country by Edgar Kaufmann Jr., Curator of the Industrial Design Department at The Museum of Modern Art and participated in a number of exhibitions. He also had his furniture on display in Georg Jensen, a store which, at that time, was an important hub for Scandinavian design in New York.
Juhl also had several prestigious furnishing assignments, including one session hall in the UN building in New York. However, during the 1970s his popularity began to decline because of changing ideals towards style and design. But in 1982, Juhl’s work underwent something of a renaissance when he was the focus of an exhibit at the Design Museum in Copenhagen. The 1980s also saw a major awakening of interest in his designs in Japan. The foremost private collector of Finn Juhl’s work is based in Japan and has built a copy of his house, which was inaugurated in 2012 – on what would have been the artist’s 100th birthday.
There is currently a huge interest in his original furniture and items are extremely popular on the auction market. Some of Juhl’s furniture are now back in production, including his Grasshopper chair, which was relaunched at the Salone del Mobile event held in Milan in April 2019. Up until then, the only versions of this piece of furniture in existence were the two originals produced in 1938.
When asked what was unique about Juhl’s approach to furniture design, Eriksson says “He looked at a chair with the experience and knowledge of an architect. By using advanced design, elegant solutions and innovative materials in his furniture, he created a unique design language.”
Last day of the exhibition was September 22, 2019.
Photo credit: Anna Danielsson, Nationalmuseum.