chair for the museum in Faaborg by Kaare Klint 1914

 
 

In many ways the chair appears to be old fashioned - looking backward to earlier styles of furniture with a romantic reinterpretation of an historic type of chair - but it also marks or defines the start of a distinctly modern approach to furniture design.

Faaborg is on the south coast of the island of Funen - just over 40 kilometres from Odense. The museum was founded in June 1910 to display the work of a group of artists known as the Funen painters and in 1912 it was the artists themselves who proposed Carl Petersen to design a new gallery that was to be built along one side of the summer home and garden of Mads Rasmussen … a wealthy businessman who had made his fortune through canned food.

Petersen was a leading figure in the architectural movement known as New Classicism. That might sound like yet another or simply the next revival of a historic style but in fact it was the architects of this group who instigated major changes as Danish architecture moved towards both Modernism and Functionalism.

Kaare Klint joined Carl Petersen as an assistant in December 1913, as work on the new gallery started, and his first designs were for furniture for the archives - a room at the end of the sequence of galleries with wide doors onto the garden. Drawings are dated February 1914 with designs for a sofa, bookcases, a bureau and chairs.

The first working drawings for this chair for the main gallery are dated June 1914 and then a small model and a full-sized prototype were made.

The starting point for the design was a Danish form of chair known as a Klismos that had first appeared in the late 18th century and was derived from chairs that had been depicted on classical vases and sculpture. The distinctive features were legs that had a marked curve between the seat and the floor - almost as if the legs are splaying out under the weight of the person - and with the back legs continuing up above the seat as posts to support a very sharply curved back rest.

 

Klint designed a chair that was a distinct improvement on earlier designs and was certainly much lighter both in weight and appearance than many versions. In part this was because the chair was actually designed deliberately to be light so that it could be moved around the gallery by the visitor so they could sit down directly in front of a painting to study the work.

photographs taken at Designmuseum Danmark in the major exhibition from June 2014 through to October 2015 on the work of Kaare Klint

 

 

Kaare Klint (1888-1954)

made by N M Rasmussen, Rud. Rasmussen and N C Jensen Kjær

oak, cane, leather

 

height: 72cm

width: 56cm

depth: 57cm

height of seat: 43cm

 

The Faaborg chair is still in production and is now made by Carl Hansen & Son

 
 

Klint himself acknowledged that Petersen had suggested changes to the design of the chair and that there had been a discussion about the way that the top of the back rest should or should not curve outwards.

Key dimensions of the chair fit within the system of proportion known as Golden Sections or Golden Rectangles so the overall radius of the arc of the back and the height from the ground to top of the seat rail are the same dimension and are directly related to the overall width of the front of the seat as a Golden proportion. Such a precise mathematical framework must surely have come from teaching by Petersen - a leading architect of the New Classical architecture movement in Denmark.

A model for the new chair was made but does not survive - it was lost in a fire - but there is a photograph of the model and it shows an earlier stage in the development of the design. In the model, Klint proposed that the back posts should be continued up above the line of the back rest with a higher parallel but shorter rail with a panel or plaque in the void and that matched the subdivision of the front rail of the seat that, in an early version, broke forward but in the final version was removed for the simple flush line of the front rail of the chairs that were made for the museum.

There was another and more significant change. A prototype has front legs that curve outwards below the seat … not forward as was found with a Klismos type … but out to the sides and the back legs were vertical. In the final version the front legs are vertical and the back posts are splayed or curved out below the seat but because the posts are set at 45 degrees, on the arc of the back rest, the curve or splays run out at an angle. 

 

Kaare Klint and Poul Henningsen were related by marriage and Klint gave Henningsen the important commission to design lighting for the Design Museum but that did not prevent a certain amount of banter from Henningsen.

There is a well-known photograph from 1927 in Kritisk Revy, the journal Henningsen published, where he is balancing a chair from Thonet on an outstretched hand.

In 1962 Henningsen explained that it was a comment on Klint and the Faaborg chair: 

"By making this chair five times as expensive, three times as heavy, half as comfortable, and a quarter as beautiful, an architect can very well win himself a name." He went on to say that he could not sit in the Faaborg chair "without becoming melancholy about the past. What pointed to the future in that chair was probably first and foremost thoroughly conceived and executed craftsmanship."