Finn Juhl (1912-1989) is indisputably one of the most innovative furniture designers of the 20th Century. In the 1940s he broke with the established furniture tradition and designed several expressive and sculptural creations that regenerated Danish furniture design and paved the way for the international recognition of modernist Danish furniture. Juhl initially wanted to study art history, but eventually enrolled at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture. Trained as an architect he always emphasized that as a furniture designer he was self-taught. He had not studied under the influential Professor Kaare Klint at the Academy’s Department of Furniture Design, nor had he trained as a cabinetmaker like many of his contemporaries. However, his profound interest in fine art remained an inspiration throughout his career and his design is characterized by an unmistakable artistic touch that stood out from the established Klint-school with its free sculptural forms.
The renowned collaboration between Juhl and cabinetmaker Niels Vodder (1892-1982) began in 1936. Vodder was forty-four years old and a well established and highly sought-after craftsman, but it was his collaboration with Finn Juhl that would cement his reputation as one of the best cabinetmakers in Denmark. By all accounts Vodder was a very progressive and clever businessman who had been looking for someone to rejuvenate his trade.
That someone was Finn Juhl, who at twenty-four years old, turned up at his workshop, requesting to have some furniture made according to his drawings. Vodder immediately recognized Juhl’s artistic talent and his creative urge for taking the Danish furniture tradition in a new direction.
It is said that Vodder was the only cabinetmaker who dared tackle Juhl’s often technically complicated designs. The innovative architect did not always consider the degree of craftsmanship required to carry out his sculptural forms and his furniture demanded untraditional and difficult joinery. Niels Vodder welcomed the challenge, advising Juhl what was conceivable and developing the designs with Juhl accordingly. Vodder’s highly developed skills perfectly matched Juhl’s visionary designs. Their public debut came in 1937 at the annual Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition and their fruitful partnership lasted for more than twenty years.
“The craftsman’s ability to form is probably the same as that of a sculptor. A chair is not just a product of decorative art in a space; it is a form and a space in itself” Finn Juhl, 1952.