“Antiques of the Future”: The Work of Georg Jensen

By: Erin Wiley and Dara Vandor

Growing up north of Copenhagen, Georg Jensen was inspired to create art from a young age. He studied sculpture and ceramics, receiving a degree from the Royal Academy of Art. Jensen’s sculpture attracted notice, and he participated in several major exhibitions, including the Danish Pavilion at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris.

Despite these successes, Jensen would turn to metalworking to better financially support his family – a decision which would ultimately bring him artistic success as well. Combining his metalworking skills with his artistic eye allowed him to create designs which would define 20th century Scandinavian design.

Lot 194 – Danish Silver ‘Blossom’ Pattern Tea and Coffee Service, #2C, #2D, #2E, and #2K, Georg Jensen, Copenhagen, 20th century;
comprising six pieces. Estimate: $7,000—10,000 CAD

From the studio to the smithy

Jensen’s travels around Europe exposed him to various aesthetics in art, architecture and decorative art, including Art Nouveau and William Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement. The latter had a major influence on Danish culture, with the term Skønvirke, meaning “beautiful work” being used to describe the sentiment that pieces that were made by the hand were better than the soulless mass production of objects which had begun during the Industrial Revolution. Skønvirke was a call for the intentional return to crafts that would better enrich people’s lives.

While Jensen did not espouse any particular philosophy publicly, his own work aligned with Morris’ interest in conveying beauty combined with skill in craftsmanship. Jensen’s early style rejected ostentation, cleaving towards the Art Nouveau style of using simple organic forms and hands-on production.

Jensen apprenticed to Mogens Ballin, who like Jensen was an artist turned silversmith. Jensen’s skill enabled him to open his own silversmithy in 1904. Jewellery became the main focus of his early career, as jewellery required less metal to fabricate, and could be sold easily. Jensen’s growing popularity allowed him to soon expand production into holloware and flatware.

Some of Jensen’s earliest designs include the famous “Blossom” pattern, begun as a teapot in 1905 (lots 193 and 194), and works with his grapevine motif from 1918, later examples of which can be found in our June Decorative Arts & Design auction (lots 188 and 191).

New collectors should note that all designs from the Jensen studio were given a model number, and in general, one can tell numerically how early the piece was designed: the lower the model number, the earlier it was first produced. Famous designs were reproduced for many years after their original conception, and one can tell in general when an object was made from the different Jensen hallmarks that were employed over the years.

Lot 192 – Danish Silver ‘Pyramid’ Fish Platter with Cover, and Mazarine, #600, Harald Nielsen for Georg Jensen, Copenhagen, post-1945. Estimate: $60,000—80,000 CAD

A Community of Craftspeople:

Central to Jensen’s success was his early championing of artistic collaboration. Bringing in talent from outside his own workshop meant a constant influx of new perspectives and ideas. He encouraged a wide community of artists, designers, jewellers and other metalworkers to produce interesting designs under his umbrella, ensuring that the studio never stagnated. Jensen hired both men and women, and his employees often stayed with the company their whole lives.

One of his first collaborations was with artist John Rohde (1856-1935), with whom Jensen had attended school. Rohde was not a trained metalworker, so Jensen had him produce a series of sketches which Jensen then translated into silver. Rohde’s designs featured clean, spare lines – a contrast to Jensen’s more Art Nouveau aesthetic. This collaboration would resonate with the new decade of 1920s modernism. Examples can be found as lots 186 and 189.

By the mid-1920s, the company employed 250 people and had found success not only within Scandinavia but globally as well. Jensen boutiques opened in New York City, Berlin, and London. The First World War would slow production and sales, but the studio’s supporters ensured that Jensen would remain open.

Post-war, another important partnership began with the arrival of Harald Nielsen (1892 – 1977). Nielsen began his apprenticeship at the age of 17, and his abilities were soon recognized by Jensen. Their work together led to several important pieces, including a variation of the exceptional Fish Platter and Mazarine, lot 192 in our June Decorative Arts & Design auction, which was initially designed in 1931. Integral to the Jensen workshop, Nielsen took over as artistic director upon Jensen’s death.

Lot 185 – Danish Silver Fluted Strawberry Bowl, #856, Sigvard Bernadotte for Georg Jensen, Copenhagen, c.1945-51 designer’s facsimile signature and ‘GEORG JENSEN & WENDEL A/S’. Estimate: $600—800 CAD

In 1930, Sigvard Bernadotte (1907 – 2002) was brought in as a designer. Bernadotte was a member of the Swedish Royal Family as well as a successful industrial designer, creating high-end silver pieces for Jensen alongside quotidian plastic household items. At Jensen’s studio, Bernadotte championed the new modernist aesthetic styles of the decades to follow. An excellent example of this is lot 185, a Strawberry Bowl which exemplifies his signature fluted forms. His designs continue to resonate with clients to this day, and are still in production.

Jensen’s Legacy

Georg Jensen died in 1935 at the age of 69. The Times of London wrote that “Jensen is one those craftsmen whose pieces can be safely regarded as antiques of the future.” Indeed, his studio created some of the most original jewellery, holloware and flatware of the period, whose appeal continues to delight collectors today. At Jensen’s death, his smithy was considered to be among the most important in the world and Scandinavian design continues to be influenced by his work.

About the auction:

Centred around a large private collection from Toronto, our Decorative Arts & Design auction (available for bidding until June 13, 2024) features excellent examples of silver from Paul Storr, Garrard & Co., and Georg Jensen, as well as a selection of dinner services by Royal Crown Derby, Aynsley and ‘Flora Danica’ by Royal Copenhagen. Other highlights include modern and contemporary glass from the Janak Khendry collection, including pieces by Tiffany, Mark Peiser, Harvey Littleton, Christopher Ries, Seguso, and Venini alongside examples of Moorcroft and Brooklin Pottery.

On view at our Toronto location, 275 King Street East, Second Floor:

Sunday, June 09 from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm
Monday, June 10 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Tuesday, June 11 from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm

Please contact us for more information.

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