Design masters: Hans J. Wegner
Among the Danish furniture designers, Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007) is considered one of the most creative, innovative and prolific. Often referred to as the master of the chair, Wegner has signed nearly 550 projects in his life, many of which are considered masterpieces. His iconic Wishbone Chair is probably the best known and has been in continuous production since 1950.
Wegner was part of the spectacular generation that created what is now called the “Golden Age” of modern Danish design. “Many foreigners have asked me how we created the Danish style,” Wegner once said. “And I replied that it was a continuous process of purification and simplification: reducing to the simplest possible design of four legs, a seat and a backrest and an armrest combined”.
The son of a shoemaker, Wegner was born in 1914 in Tønder, a city in southern Denmark. He began his apprenticeship with the Danish master cabinetmaker H. F. Stahlberg when he was only 14 years old. Later, he moved to Copenhagen and attended the School of Arts and Crafts from 1936 to 1938 before starting as a furniture designer.
In 1938, Wegner was approached by architects and designers Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller and began designing furniture for Aarhus’s new town hall. Around the same time, Wegner began collaborating with master cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen, who was an engine in bringing the new furniture design to the Danish public at the Copenhagen Guild of Cabinetmakers Exhibitions.
The heart of Wegner’s legacy is his attention to show the interior soul of the furniture through a simple and functional exterior. Wegner’s background as a cabinetmaker allowed him to fully understand how to integrate rigorous woodworking techniques with exquisite shapes. His aesthetic was also based on a deep respect for wood and its characteristics and on a great curiosity for other natural materials that allowed him to bring an organic and natural softness to formalist minimalism.
Wegner founded his design studio in 1943 and created a series of lightweight chairs for Carl Hansen & Søn from 1949 to 1968, including the Wishbone Chair, which has been in production at Carl Hansen & Søn ever since.
Wegner is considered to be one of the most famous and creative Danish furniture designers. He has received numerous design awards, including the Lunning Prize in 1951, the Milan Triennale Grand Prix in 1951, the Eckersberg Medal of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1956, the Prince Eugen Medal in Sweden in 1961, the Danish for furniture in 1980, the CF Hansen medal in 1982 and the eighth international design award in 1997. In 1959 he was named Honorary Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in London, in 1995 he became an honorary member of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1995, and was awarded the Honorary Doctorate from the Royal College of Art in 1997.
Almost every major design museum in the world, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen to Die Neue Sammlung in Munich, exhibit his works. Hans J. Wegner died in Denmark in January 2007 at the age of 92.