The Chair by Hans Wegner 1949
NV44 by Finn Juhl 1944
Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
cabinetmakers Johannes Hansen, PP Møbler
depth: 52 cm
height of seat: 44cm
now made in oak, ash, cherry or walnut
leather or cane
Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl were almost the same age and The Chair, designed by Wegner, and the NV44, by Juhl, were designed and made a few years apart, in the late 1940s.
Both chairs are in wood, with a back rest in wood that is shaped and twisted to continue round into wood arm rests and both chairs are of a high quality - both made by highly-skilled cabinet makers - so, ostensibly, the chairs are of the same type.*
But clearly they are distinctly different - even if It is difficult to pin down and describe those differences - because once you have seen the chairs it would be difficult to mistake one for the other.
If you showed both chairs to someone who knows nothing about Danish design history and asked them to give a date to the chairs, my guess would be that some people, but relatively few, would suggest the 1940s. Many would see the chair by Juhl as more traditional or more old fashioned and might push its date back - back in the century or even wonder if it was older - whereas many would be surprised that the chair by Wegner is now nearly 70 years old and might hazard a guess for its date as being in the 1960s or possibly even more recent.
The NV44 by Finn Juhl is more sculptural, more dramatic - with a stronger sense of movement - so the back rail or back rest is shaped and twisted but there is a sense that the wood is still under tension and the arms are pulled outwards and the uprights are twisted out to support the arms to form a cup shape for the person sitting in the chair.
There are stretchers but not between the back and front legs - as in a conventional design - but, as they run from the back legs, they are tilted down and inwards to the centre of a deep stretcher between the front legs and that stretcher itself is curved but, surely, curved the wrong way because an arch supports and spreads weight, taking the load down and out to the ground, but a reverse arch, as here, creates the impression that the uprights are or could move together at the top. It creates a dynamic where the front of the seat itself seems almost as if it is slung between the front legs.
Obviously the arms and back rest on Wegner's design have also been cut to shape and twisted but, despite that manipulation, they seem natural and at rest. The legs of the chair are reduced down as much as possible by being tapered - that's why the Wegner chair is elegant - but the seat and the centre part of the leg, where the rails of the seat are joined, are strong enough and those joins, fixing the seat rail into the legs, are precisely cut and strong enough that stretchers were omitted completely.
The seat on Wegner's chair is slightly hollowed, to make it look and be more comfortable and it is wide and open - uncluttered - so it looks as if there is room to move around, however large you are, and the outward splay of the legs makes the chair, despite those elegant tapered legs, look stable, the chair standing square, calm and somehow self contained.
So is the chair by Juhl tense? If you prefer the chair designed by Finn Juhl then you might argue that the NV44 is more organic, voluptuous or sensual, and the lines and silhouette of the chair by Wegner not more pure but more mechanical.
Certainly the chairs could not have been more different commercially.
Finn Juhl was not concerned with commercial success or compromise and here one suspects that Niels Vodder, the cabinetmakers, had to work hard to realise the design. It was presumably the complexity and the cost of the work that explains why, initially, only 12 chairs were produced.
In contrast, it's known that Hans Wegner collaborated closely with the cabinetmakers who used their skill and their experience, as he himself said, "cutting the elements down to the bare essentials" so together, they produced a chair that is not just rational but, from that process of simplification, it meant that, if not exactly made on a factory production line, the chair could be produced in relatively large numbers.
The NV44 by Juhl has much more conventional upholstery with the leather taken over the frame of the seat and that meant it needed a good upholsterer with real skill - look at the piping on the edge of the leather where it is taken around the uprights supporting the back and arms - and the work could only be done on the fully finished chair.
With the leather version of The Chair by Wegner, the leather seat and upholstery were over a separate frame that was dropped into place when the chair was assembled so seat and frame could be made independently.
But also the design of the frame of the seat on The Chair meant that it could be in cane … in fact the first chairs were all with cane seats and the leather covered version was introduced later.
That, in part, explains the success of The Chair which is still in production, made now by PP Møbler.
And it is not just the choice of seat because The Chair was one of the first chairs where the same design could be customised to take on a different character if the customer chose a different type of wood or different finishes for the wood so it takes on a different character in different settings. Not just a very beautiful chair but a bit of a chameleon.
ostensibly similar because in their classification of chair types at Designmuseum Danmark, the chair by Juhl is a Chinese Chair and Wegner's chair a Round Arm or Klismos Chair.