Form over Function

Without embellishment and expertly crafted, Finn Juhl’s furniture creations are distinguished from the work of his Danish contemporaries by their expressive and sculptural form. Trained as an architect and a lover of art, Juhl’s works reveal the influence of the contemporary arts on developing his aesthetic. Stressing form over function, Juhl’s earliest works made by Niels Vodder were closely aligned with Surrealism and inspired by the human forms of Jean Arp. For example, the Pelican chair introduced in 1940 at the Danish Cabinetmakers Guild features a dramatic and curvaceous shape that recalls forms in nature.

Pelican chair, 1940.

Juhl approached furniture design as though he were a sculptor; he explained, “A chair is not just a product of decorative art in a space, it is a form and a space itself.” Yet, he was also quick to define furniture as furniture and not as art. By mid-century, Juhl had found a more balanced blend of form and function without sacrificing the visual impact of his designs. In 1950 at the Danish Cabinetmakers Guild, Juhl introduced a sofa (a precursor to the present lot) with an organically shaped seat back attached to the wall and seat with tubular steel frames. Svend Erik Moller, a reviewer of the exhibition, wrote: “Finn Juhl has found the basis for his own very personal idiom in modern abstract art and in natural organic forms.”

Wall-mounted sofa, 1953.

The present lot is a custom sofa for the Villa K. Kokfeldt in Hellerup, Denmark in 1953. A variation of the sofa introduced in 1950, this large wall-mounted work features a long curved headrest with wraparound ears, reminiscent of his Pelican chair. By attaching the piece to the wall, the sofa becomes a more permanent structure within its environment while the biomorphic shape is mounted like a piece of art suspended from the wall.  

A chair is not just a product of decorative art in a space, it is a form and a space itself.

—Finn Juhl

Finn Juhl 1912–1989

Finn Juhl was a pioneering designer, famed for his organic, sculptural style, as well as a key proponent of bringing mid-century Scandinavian design to the wider world market. Born in Frederiksberg, Denmark in 1912, Juhl’s father was a textile wholesaler who insisted that his son pursue architecture, rather than studying art history, which was his real passion as a young man. In 1930, he enrolled in the Royal Danish Academy of Art’s School of Architecture in Copenhagan.

After graduating in 1934, Juhl went on to work for architect Vilhelm Lauritzen for eleven years. During this time, monumental shifts were taking place in architectural practice and theory; at the time, historicism was still the predominant style, with a surge of Neoclassism beginning around 1910. By the mid-1930s, functionalism had emerged as both a practical and aesthetic style to meet the changing needs of a rapidly modernizing society. Innovative materials and building methods were developed, creating an entirely new architectural language. Juhl worked on The Radio House (Radiohuset) in Copenhagan with Lauritzen, the headquarters of the national Danish broadcast company. Completed in 1945, it is one of the first major works built in Scandinavia in the prevailing functionalist style.

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