The Danish people have a particular aptitude fordesign: for making the functional, beautiful and the desirable, affordable. Georg Jensen (1866–1935) was arguably the champion of this trend; creating beautiful silver jewellery, hollow ware and cutlery that blended a natural eye for shape with a disciplined respect for fine art. Some modern Georg Jensen designs have waiting lists of up to three years, and antique pieces can still fetch huge sums at auction. ‘Jensen was one of the first Danish craftsmen of his time to also be recognised as an artist,’ explains Nicholas Manville, the senior vice president of Georg Jensen design and merchandising. ‘His work was highly sculptural, and more free than most of his contemporaries – but he was also an entrepreneur with a global vision.’
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
Jensen was born in Raadvad, north of Copenhagen, in 1866. His mother was a housemaid and his father was a knife grinder in a local factory. It is thought Jensen longed to work as a sculptor but, as his family had little money, he chose to begin an apprenticeship with a goldsmith when he was 14. Once this ended, Jensen began to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, and started to exhibit his sculptures professionally. At one such exhibition in Paris, at the turn of the century, Jensen was awarded a monetary prize for a ceramic jug he had created. Success! ‘This meant he could finally buy more expensive materials,’ explains Manville. Soon after, Jensen’s first designs in silver emerged.
Jensen was nearly 40 when he started his own company, a small smithery in Copenhagen, where he sold everything from a little drawer in his workbench. Although not much is known about Jensen at this time, it is thought he was a flamboyant character – often seen wearing a wide-brimmed hat and carrying a silver-topped cane. Jensen’s revolutionary works swiftly caught the eyes of art nouveau trendsetters and, by the end of the 1920s, his company had grown to establish shops in Germany, Britain and America.
THE JENSEN STYLE
Sweeping and fluid, Jensen’s personal style bled through several design eras, and merged elegant forms with practical utility. ‘It is said that Jensen’s childhood in nature is probably the most important inspiration to his work,’ says Manville. ‘From the figurative nature of his art nouveau masterpieces, to the hammered surfaces that he favoured the most, the landscape of Scandinavia is clearly present.’ One of the most unusual things about the way Jensen worked is the free reign that he gave the designers in his employ: he nurtured more than 90 craftsmen throughout his working life. The company continues to follow this ethos, selling a diverse range of works by the pioneers of modern silver, including the most recent Christmas collection by Argentine designer Alfredo Häberli.
* Visit the UK Georg Jensen flagship store at 89 Mount Street, Mayfair, London, W1K 2SR. 020 7499 6541; georgjensen.com