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  • Writer's pictureAntiques in Oxford

Notes on an icon Georg Jensen

Danish people have a particular aptitude for design: for making the functional, beautiful and the desirable, affordable.

Georg Jensen (1866-1935) was arguably the champion of this trend: creating beautiful jewellery, hollow ware and cutlery that blended a natural eye for fine art. Some modern designs have waiting lists of 3 years and antique pieces can fetch huge sums at auction. Jensen was recognised as an artist as his designs were highly sculptural and more free than most of his contemporaries. He was also an entrepreneur with a global vision.

How it all began

Jensen was born in Raadvad, north of Copenhagen, in 1866. His mother was a housemaid and his father a knife grinder in a local factory. His family had little money. He chose to begin an apprenticeship with a goldsmith when he was 14. After this he studied at The Royal Academy of Fine Arts and started to exhibit his sculptures professionally.

At the turn of the century at an exhibition in Paris, Jensen was awarded a monetary prize for a ceramic jug he had created. Success! This meant he could finally buy more expensive materials. Soon after his first designs in silver emerged.

Jensen was nearly 40 when he started his own company, a small smithery in Copenhagen where he sold everything from a little drawer in his workbench. It is thought he was a flamboyant character often seen carrying a silver topped cane and wearing a wide-brimmed hat. His revolutionary work caught the eye of art nouveau trendsetters and by the end of the 1920s his company had grown to establish shops in Germany, Britain and America.

The Jensen style

Sweeping and fluid, his style bled through several design eras. Elegant forms merged with practical utility. It is said that his childhood in nature was the most important influence. From the figurative nature of his art nouveau to the hammered surfaces that he favoured the most, the landscape of Scandinavia is clearly present.

One of the most unusual things about the way Jensen worked is the free reign he gave to the designers he employed. He nurtured more than 90 craftsmen throughout his working life. The company continues to follow this ethos, selling a diverse range of works by the pioneers of modern silver.

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