This low chair or easy chair from Carl Hansen - identified in their catalogues as CH22 - was one of the first chairs that Hans Wegner designed for the company. It went into production in 1950 and marked the start of a significant commercial partnership that continued through the rest of Wegner's long career.
This is not one of the best-known or most famous chairs designed by Wegner but it is important and significant for several reasons:
- the CH22 chair was designed in a remarkable period of creativity as Wegner established and rapidly consolidated his reputation.
After a period studying in Copenhagen, Wegner moved to Århus in 1940 and worked first for Arne Jacobsen on furniture for the new city hall before establishing his own studio in Århus in 1943. In 1946 he returned to Copenhagen to set up a studio in Gentofte but worked first with Palle Suenson before striking out on his own in 1948.
In 1949 Wegner designed Tredelte Skalstol - Tripartite Shell Chair - as a prototype and the Folding Chair that was produced initially by the cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen and he designed the first version of The Round Chair that was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition that year.
In 1950 he designed the Delfinstolen or Dolpin Chair and the Flaglinestolen or Flag Halyard Chair that could hardly be more different and in the same year PP Møbler put into production the upholstered version of The Round Chair PP503 - the chair that was to establish Wegner's reputation in the United States. Not only was the diversity of these designs astounding but in 1950 a total of 27 different designs by Wegner went into production with six different cabinetmakers or manufacturers … an outstanding achievement … and it can hardly be seen as surprising that in 1951 Wegner was awarded the Lunning Prize - a new but prestigious prize awarded to two designers each year who were selected by a panel of designers and academics from the Nordic countries.
- the CH22 is a good example to illustrate how Wegner returned to an idea and then took it to a completely different end point
The broad curved back of the CH22 evolved from the Shell Chair FH1936 he designed in 1948 but combined with a woven paper cord seat, rather than a plywood seat, that was a development of the Peacock Chair of 1947 and the CH22 had wide arm rests similar to those on the Peacock Chair but with supports that adapted the axe handle design from the Chinese Chair and, for good measure, the CH22 has flat but tapered stretchers on each side (rather than turned stretchers) between the front and back legs, that he used for the Wishbone Chair.
But this replaying of elements or features does not imply a struggle for ideas … rather the imagination of someone brimming with ideas who worked through one sequence of development to produce a logical and rational design but then went back to the starting point, back to a basic form or shape, in order to explore how an alternative sequence of decisions from that same starting point might be resolved.
- this chair is a very good example to show that Wegner developed new styles and new techniques to work with new materials in new ways
The prominent curved back of the CH22 is a development of the chair designed for Fritz Hansen FH1936 but here uses plywood that is thicker and used in a much more sophisticated way.
- this was one of the first chairs that Wegner designed for Carl Hansen and marked the start of a very successful and long-running commercial partnership
For the Danish furniture industry, this partnership was important because it showed a way to the next stage in the move of furniture production from the workshops of cabinetmakers to larger-scale and more-commercial production. Together Wegner and Carl Hansen & Son adapted production methods or modified and simplified designs so that the chairs could be produced in large numbers and in part this was achieved by simplifying shapes or rationalising assembly or making use of machine production or machine finishing - rather than work by hand - to keep the price down.
In 1950, for that first group of chairs for Carl Hansen & Son, Wegner designed the CH22, CH23, CH24 - The Wishbone Chair - and CH25.
There is a story that a very large order was placed from the USA for one of the chairs designed by Wegner and initially it was thought that no Danish company could complete that number of chairs over the suggested time scale. This does not imply that subsequently Wegner compromised the quality or even the complexity of his designs in order to make production quicker or easier … it is simply that, with his work for FDB (the Danish Coop) where he produced designs that could be sold at a reasonable price without compromising quality and with the designs he produced for Carl Hansen & Son and the chairs that he produced with PP Møbler, Wegner realised he could harness and exploit new woodworking machines for cutting and milling without undermining quality and the machines actually allowed him to do some things that were difficult or impossible by hand on the traditional work bench.
- this is a sophisticated and clever example of Wegner's use of paper cord
He used a yoke or spoke-shave shaped bar, set across between the back legs of the chair frame, to support the seat at the centre but not only cut a slot through the yoke to take the centre section of cords running across the seat but also cut in a slot from each side so that from above the cords continue unbroken across the full width … a complicated arrangement that makes the actual weaving of the paper cord look deceptively simple and straightforward.
- curiously, this is one of the few examples where Wegner produced closely-related designs for a low easy chair and for a dining chair
Although certain distinct elements reappear in different combinations in different chairs, it is relatively unusual for Wegner to design together an easy chair and a dining that are close enough, in their form and style, to be considered as a related pair. This might seem an odd point or not important but actually at in the late 1940s and early 1950s the general aim was to do just the opposite … to design and produce chairs that were very different but could be used together in the same room. This now probably seems like a strange concept but when FDB Møbler - the Danish Coop - produced their first furniture they made a specific point that people could buy different chairs and a table over a number of years but the designers felt that they would look good together in a small apartment. This was a deliberate break from the way that conventional furniture stores sold furniture where people bought a “suite” or full set of furniture and, in order to make such a significant purchase might well have to resort to some sort of payment plan with money repaid over an extended period.
CH22 - a low or easy chair - was designed in 1950 and although the dining-chair version CH26 was designed in the same year it has only recently gone into production.
The only comparable 'pairs' of chairs by Wegner are the low Sawbuck Chair CH28 designed in 1951 and the dining chair version CH29 designed in 1952 and possibly, and literally at a stretch, the Dolphin Chair JH510 and the Long Dolphin Chair JH511 designed in 1950 and shown by Johannes Hansen at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition that year alongside an upholstered version of The Round Chair.
The back of the dining chair is obviously smaller or more restrained but there are other and more significant differences. Perhaps the most important is the join at the top of the front legs. On the CH22 the leg is taken up through the seat frame and fixed in place with a wedge driven into a slot cut across the top of the leg but on the dining chair the leg is taken up and the side rail of the seat housed into it to form a knee or knuckle. The CH22 has a central stretcher that forms an H shape with the side stretchers between the front and back legs but on the dining chair there are stretchers between the front legs and between the back legs that are curved inwards or narrowed towards the centre in profile and the central stretcher is omitted. Gone too is the complicated yoke or piece shaped like a spoke-shave across the back - that supports the seat of the CH22 - replaced with a simple back rail to the seat frame that makes weaving the seat rather more straightforward. The seat of the dining chair is narrower and set at a flatter angle than the seat of the CH22 - simply reflecting the different sitting positions when using a chair at a table - and the arm rests are narrower though still supported on the axe handle uprights that continue down below the seat frame to be bird-mouthed over the stretcher. Finally, with a more upright sitting position for the dining chair, the back post has a much less dramatic curve than on the CH22 … the easy chair.
Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
Lounge Chair or Easy Chair CH22 1950
Made by Carl Hansen
height of seat: 36.8cm
Dining chair CH26
height of seat: 44.5cm