When one thinks of mid-century design, a few names spring immediately to mind: Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright, Arne Jacobsen. But despite his status as one of the best-known figures in Danish Modern furniture design and the creator of one of the most commercially successful chair models in history, Arne Jacobsen never wanted to be known as a “designer”.
Born in 1902 to a working-class Jewish family in Copenhagen, Jacobsen originally set out to become an architect. During his studies at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Jacobsen traveled extensively through France and Germany, where he became an ardent admirer of works by Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius. His strikingly spare, austere designs for the Bellevue Sea Bath and Bellevue Theatre established him as a leading proponent of the International Modern Style in the Pre-War Era.
His architectural projects softened the White Cubist and rationalist influences of his predecessors – sleek glass and concrete, and open plans free of ornamentation – with functional features that deeply humanized his ultra-modern vision. Later, Jacobsen would design every detail of the SAS Air Terminal, St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, and the Royal Hotel Copenhagen, including site-specific furniture for each.
With his reputation as a masterful architect well-established, Jacobsen turned his attention to furniture design during the 1950s, creating some of the most recognizable examples of Danish Modern design. His creations balance Modernist simplicity of form with warmth and traditional, high-quality craftsmanship. His 1951 Seven Series featured compact, lightweight, stackable chairs, highlighting the designer’s fastidious attention to every detail of his designs – “from the spoon to the city,” as the Italian historian Ernesto Rogers puts it.
His designs are as playful as they are sophisticated, bringing a sense of whimsy and lightness into any space. The Ant chair, designed in 1952, harmoniously brings together the formal qualities that define work of his era and Denmark’s traditional craft heritage in a single piece of bent plywood. The result is a deceptively simple, minimal design with a universal appeal.
Of all his work, perhaps Jacobsen’s Egg and Swan chairs best exemplify the principles which guided his practice. The “body” of the Swan is composed of a rounded back with a slender waist and two wings forming a sculptural, free-form seat that cradles the body. Fluid curves shaped from foam float above the delicate star-shaped base. The elegant, curvilinear shapes and balanced proportions give the Swan its iconic grace and a feeling of easy, uncomplicated luxury.
Jacobsen’s aesthetic seamlessly combines Modernist precepts with utility and humanity, and the results are timeless, perfectly suited to meet modern needs – then and now.