new design times

Finn Juhl


Designer:Finn  Juhl

Finn Juhl was trained as an all-round building architect, not especially as a furniture designer, something he himself considered important to emphasize. On several occasions, he pointed out that as a furniture designer, he was purely autodidact. His oeuvre did, however, also comprise a broad spectrum of architectural works. He made an especially excellent contribution as an interior designer. But it was nonetheless first and foremost furniture which made him a reputation, not only in Denmark, but internationally as well. And with good reason, since it was in this field that he showed truly original talent.Finn Juhl designed his first furniture for himself. It is an old tradition for architects and painters to design furniture for their own use, one that in Denmark goes all the way back to the latter half of the l8th century, when the architect and painter Nicolai Abildgaard designed a number of pieces for his own use in a ?neo-antique? style. There are various theories about why Abildgaard designed this furniture, which was inspired by scenes on Greek vases, cenotaphs, and sculptures. Some believed that he intended to use the pieces as models for his historical paintings, which depicted scenes from antiquity, while others cited political reasons. Neo-classical furniture was the style of the absolute monarchs, while furniture from antiquity originated in the times of the Greek and Roman republics. This is why this furniture came into fashion in the years following the French Revolution. Still others believe that Abildgaard simply wanted furniture that satisfied his aesthetic senses. Whatever the case, it became a tradition for painters and architects to design furniture for their own use. In the beginning of the following century, the sculptor H.E. Freund designed his own neo-antique furniture, as did M.G. Bindesb?ll, who built the Thorvaldsen Museum, and many others throughout the century. In the beginning of our own century, the painter Johan Rohde designed some fine, simple pieces of furniture for himself and for friends and acquaintances, so it was indeed a strong tradition. This furniture designed by artists is now found in museums, while the pieces which Finn Juhl designed for his own use will hardly become treasures. His later and best models, in contrast, now stand in museums of decorative art throughout Europe, the United States, Australia, and Japan. But they are not just museum pieces: they also stand in many private homes and public premises all over the world. Finn Juhl was born on January 30, 1912, in Frederiksberg, part of Greater Copenhagen. His father, Johannes Juhl (1872-1941), was a textile wholesaler who represented a number of English, Scottish, and Swiss textile companies in Denmark. He never knew his mother, n?e Goecker, who died only three days after his birth. There is no way of knowing what this meant for Finn Juhl?s childhood, but he himself denied that he missed her, for the logical reason that you cannot miss what you do not know. He had many friends whose mothers took tender care of the motherless boy. He himself felt that it perhaps made him more independent than he would otherwise have been. He was supported by his brother Erik, 2 years older, who was close to him throughout his life. Finn Juhl noted in an interview that his relationship with his father was not especially warm. ?Father was authoritarian, but I learned quite early that if I just obeyed him, nothing would happen to me - then I would have the rest of my time to myself. . . When my father came home before dinner, we had to tell him if we wanted to have an audience with him. And so he sat down at his player piano, his cigar in his mouth, and stamped out a classical repertoire, while I sat in a rocking chair with an antimacassar beside an imitation fire-place which had a large clock with a glass dome and General de Meza on horseback.? Home could not have inspired Finn Juhl in his later work as an architect. ?I grew up in a Tudor and Elizabethan dining room, and we had leaded windows and high panels. On the other hand, there was a Swedish chandelier in the living room. The study had Chesterfield chairs.? Finn Juhl said the following about his choice of career: ? I wanted to be an art historian. I frequented the Royal Museum of Fine Arts from the time I was 15-16 years old; it was open one evening a week. And I was given permission to borrow books from the Glyptotek [museum] library by Frederik Poulsen, who was a Hellenist, while I am more enthralled by Achaean-Greek art. My practical father, who had an instinct for mammon, did not think that art history was a means of making a living. So we made the compromise that I would begin at the Academy, and I had the sinister ulterior motive that of course I would be able to study art history there at the same time.? After graduating from Sankt J?rgens Gymnasium in 1930, Finn Juhl was indeed accepted at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts? School of Architecture at Charlottenborg. At the time, the school was divided into a preliminary school, which consisted of two classes, and a main school, which consisted of three. The third and final class ended with a graduation project. Students normally spent their first two four-month summer vacations apprenticed to a mason or a carpenter, and the following summers at an architect?s office. Working at an architect?s office was an especially important part of a student?s education. This is how he learned what the life of an architect was like in practice. But it was not easy to get a job at an architect?s office, since the 1930s experienced one of the construction crises that have plagued architects in all ages. But Finn Juhl was lucky: in the summer of 1934, he got a job with the architect Vilhelm Lauritzen. It was usually possible at the main school to choose one?s professor, and Finn Juhl chose Kay Fisker. This proved a good choice, for he grew to admire Fisker as an architect. As things were, students did not have a close relationship with professors. All were practicing architects and also had large offices to manage. But they assigned projects and directed the teaching through assistants. In the course of a school year, the professor arrived two or at most three times and sat down at the student?s drawing board to look at the project with which he or she was in progress and give some good advice. The assistants also worked as architects so there were limits to how much students saw them. Actual teaching took the form of an overall critical review of how well the students had carried out their projects and of lectures given by both professors and teaching assistants. Kay Fisker was an excellent lecturer - something that could not be said of all the professors. Only Steen Eiler Rasmussen could match him, and perhaps Wilhelm Wanscher, who lectured on art history. Fisker?s lectures were real attractions: a student had to be very ill indeed not to attend. He was probably the first lecturer at the Academy to show two slides on the screen simultaneously to provide a complement or a contrast. This made the lectures exciting, and Fisker?s slide collection seemed inexhaustible. In addition, Fisker was a fine architect. In 1931,he had (together with Povl Stegmann and C.F. M?ller) won the ?rhus University competition, and in doing so created a Danish version of international functionalism, which was highly admired, especially by his students. On the whole, he markedly influenced his students? concept of architecture despite their sporadic personal contact. This was true especially in the case of Finn Juhl.

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