Pelican Chair by Finn Juhl 1940

 

Finn Juhl (1912-1989) had trained as an architect, at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, and not as a furniture maker, so his design for the Pelican Chair was realised with the cabinet maker Niels Vodder and two of the chairs were shown at the exhibition of the Cabinet Makers’ Guild in 1940. With their strong sculptural form and simple but hefty wooden legs set at an angle, the chairs must have caused a fair bit of discussion and controversy at the exhibition and subsequently commercial production was limited. 

A version of the chair - with thinner and upturned wings set lower to the back - was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1939 with a sofa, desk, chairs and shelves that were all made by Niels Vodder. In a review, Hans Hansen wrote in Arkitekten that the “general opinion will probably be that the whole arrangement is most peculiar, but it offers a valuable chance to challenge established norms, and arouse discussion ....” and when this, the final version of the arm chair, was shown in 1940, Eiler Abel, again in Arkitekten, thought the chairs “resemble more than anything tired walruses.”

OneCollection reintroduced the design at the Cologne furniture fair in January 2001 and now,  to mark its 75th anniversary, have produced a special edition of the chair covered in a fabric based on a drawing from 1942 entitled Macbeth by the Danish artist Asger Jorn - a contemporary of Juhl’s who studied in Paris under Fernand Léger in the late 30s and also collaborated with Le Corbusier.

 
 

 

Although the new Pelican is true to the scale and shape of the original chairs from the 1940s, those first chairs had a pine frame with several layers of upholstery but for the current version this has been replaced with a hard foam shell with a steel core.

 

height: 68cm
width: 85cm
depth: 76cm
height of seat: 37cm

these dimensions are from the chair now made by OneCollection

NV 44 by Finn Juhl 1944

 

In 1944, Finn Juhl was in his early 30s when he designed the NV 44 Chair. NV are the initials of the cabinetmaker Niels Vodder. Juhl first collaborated with Vodder in 1937 and they worked together on many designs through until 1959.

From 1930 to 1934 Juhl had trained as an architect under Kay Fisker at the Royal Danish Academy and then worked in the architectural firm of Vilhelm Lauritzen for ten years although increasingly he focused on interior design and on designing furniture. 

This chair came at a turning point in his career and in 1945 he left Lauritzen to set up an independent design company and his reputation now is based on his furniture designs rather than his work as an architect.

The NV 44 chair is quite a virtuoso piece with shapes and lines curving and flowing through different planes. An English form of chair called a balloon back has a similar line for the back with the back legs flowing up in a single curve into the rounded arch of the top of the back rest but here the arm rests also flow round and through the same shape so it looks almost as if it should be made in a mould rather than constructed from separate pieces of shaped wood.

There are interesting technical details like the side braces that, rather than running between the back and the front legs, are set at a sharp angle to run up from the back legs to the centre of the front frame of the seat forming a V shape. This means that in silhouette the space between the legs looks uncluttered.

On balance, the design seems more dated, more fixed in the 1940s, than Wegner’s comparable chair, The Round Chair, from 1949. Perhaps it is the deep leather-covered seat although that too is given a rounded shape … earlier leather chairs would normally have had flat front and side rails with the leather fixed by a line of nails along the bottom edge … as with the Red Chair and the arm chair from Rud Rasmussen both designed by Kaare Klint in the late 1920s.

This comparison with the work by Klint shows just how much the form of armed chairs in Danish design changed over less than 20 years from something solid and robust, still linked to cabinetmaker’s work of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to a style that was fluid and sculptural.

 

NV 44 by Finn Juhl in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

in 2012, to mark the anniversary of the birth of Finn Juhl, a limited edition of the chair was produced by OneCollection

 

 

photographed at Illums Bolighus in Copenhagen

 

NV45 / FJ45 by Finn Juhl 1945

photographed at Galleri Feldt at Nordre Toldbod in Copenhagen

 

Chair NV45 was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1945 - with other furniture including a desk and sofa designed by Finn Juhl and made by Niels Vodder - in a room setting that was described as a "room for a managing director."

Obviously this was not cheap furniture … a review in Berlingske Tidende noted that the furniture was designed for a deluxe office and added that not only had it been awarded first prize but had been sold in advance to an American customer.

In a review of the exhibition in the magazine Arkitekten, Erik Herlow wrote: "As opposed to Ole Wanscher, he [Finn Juhl] does not base his work on the improvement of traditional models. Instead he analyses each problem in terms of its functional requirements which will, in turn, determine his choice of form."

Is that right? Surely that phrase 'functional requirements' implies furniture rather more utilitarian than this chair where the design seems to be more about testing boundaries or rather testing the limits and skills of the cabinetmaker.

There is a thin curved shell for the seat and back that rests on a cross bar underneath, between the side stretchers, so the design separates the supported and the supporting elements of the chair.

The shape of the shell may have been Influenced by a chair designed by Edvard and Tove Kindt-Larsen and made by Gustav Bertelsen that was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1940. Set in a room with furniture centred around an open fire, the chair won first prize that year * but the frame appears to be heavy and clumsy when compared with the later chair by Juhl.

 
Finn Juhl.jpg

The frame designed by Finn Juhl demanded considerable skill from the cabinetmaker. The shaped arm rest forms a narrow L shape at the outer end where there is a join for the front leg and in other sections of the frame Juhl reduces and stretches parts that are under stress or carry weight. It would be interesting to have an assessment of the frame from an engineer because the join where the back leg meets the underside of the arm rest would appear to be under stress because the leg is set at an angle and the post of the back rest acts as a lever because, although the shell is supported on that cross bar under the seat, the back rest is fixed at the very top by a thin lug so someone leaning back would put pressure down through the post to the top of the back leg. It is also not clear how a pair of thin angled struts, that run out and down from the centre of the cross bar under the seat to the front legs, could stop the legs being forced apart at the bottom or the arm rests being forced apart if someone heavy stands up from the chair and supports their weight or pushes down on the arm rests … a fairly normal stance when standing up.

The curve of the shell has a relatively thin layer of padding and required a textile with a more open weave to stop the cover bunching up around the inner angle.

Juhl returned to some of these ideas for the design of later chairs and, for the Chieftain Chair from 1949, he pushed the challenge for the cabinetmaker further. In the Cheftain the seat and back are upholstered over plywood but the shape of the arms was too complicated to form in wood so they are plates of metal that were hammered into shape, as in a car bodywork, and then upholstered.

In 1952, in the design of a chair for Bovirke, the BO98, Juhl returned to the shell shape of the NV45 but added a cross rail between the front legs that supported the front of the seat and moved the cross bar back under the angle of the shell to omit the struts and the upper part of the back post of the back rest and fixed the frame to the shell at the angle of the arm rest and the back leg.

notes:

 * Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År 1937-1946, Grete Jalk, pages 108-11

This chair was included in the room setting that Juhl designed in 1951 for National Museum of Decorative Arts (Det Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum) in Trondheim in Norway. The room had a fitted bookcase on one wall; full length windows along almost all of one long side and a wooden floor in Swedish Kalmar pine. It was furnished to represent the best of Scandinavian interior design - with a rug, a sofa and two chairs by Juhl with a light by Vilhelm Lauritzen and, rather interesting for the contrast, a Stool 60 by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. Juhl himself acknowledged the influence of contemporary American interiors. The full description of the room by Finn Juhl is reproduced in Danish Furniture Design in the 20th Century by Arne Karlsen and is an important lesson in the value of considering these major pieces of furniture in a context the designer envisaged.

 

designed by Finn Juhl (1912-1989)
made by Niels Vodder, Søren Horn, Niels Roth Andersen, Hansen & Sørensen
shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1945

walnut
later versions in rosewood Mahogany teak and cherry

height: 72cm
width: 87cm ?
depth: 78cm
height of seat: 38cm

 

relaunched in 2003 by OneCollection

walnut, teak, oak

height: 88cm
width: 66.5cm
depth: 73cm
height of seat: 42cm