DE­SIGN HERO HENNING KOP­PEL

The Dan­ish sculp­tor whose de­signs cap­tured the essence of mid-cen­tury mod­ernism

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Henning Kop­pel (1918–1981) once de­clared: ‘ Things should not be too in­sis­tently prac­ti­cal, oth­er­wise ev­ery­thing drowns in bore­dom.’ The de­signer re­mained true to these words through­out his ca­reer, and at a time when the min­i­mal, stark ra­tio­nal­ity of the Ger­man Bauhaus was dom­i­nat­ing the de­sign world, Kop­pel favoured beauty over func­tion­al­ity, cham­pi­oning a bound­ary­break­ing kind of shape­li­ness.

Born into a wealthy Jewish fam­ily in Copen­hagen, Kop­pel stud­ied sculp­ture at the Royal Dan­ish Acad­emy of Fine Arts and then at Paris’s Académie Ran­son. Af­ter be­com­ing an artist of some renown, he was forced to leave Den­mark due to the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of the coun­try dur­ing World War II. He moved to Swe­den and took a job in jew­ellery de­sign at Estrid Eric­son’s Sven­skt Tenn in Stock­holm. While there, his or­ganic, sculp­tural style caught the eye of the head of jew­ellery de­sign at Dan­ish de­sign firm Ge­org Jensen. Kop­pel joined the brand in 1945, and spent the next 35 years cre­at­ing ev­ery­thing from watches to pitch­ers.

Kop­pel’s de­signs on pa­per – all stun­ning pieces of art in their own right – chal­lenged the mas­ter sil­ver­smiths at Ge­org Jensen. With ‘Pitcher 992’ from 1952 (which he dubbed ‘Preg­nant Duck’) and 1956’s ‘Pitcher 1052’ (‘The Swan’), he achieved forms so fluid that they are now oft-copied clas­sics, while his cut­lery de­signs, ‘Car­avel’ from 1957 and ‘Strata’ from the 1970s, went on to be best­sellers. Of course, Kop­pel’s sculp­tural vi­sion was not lim­ited to the use of sil­ver and steel – for Louis Poulsen he de­signed clocks and the cur­va­ceous ‘Petronella’ oil lamp (1960). When his line of ‘Hvid’ (1963) porce­lain table­ware for Bing & Grøn­dahl was crit­i­cised for be­ing too del­i­cate for the dish­washer, Kop­pel re­torted, ‘Then wash it up by hand!’. No mat­ter the ma­te­rial or use, beauty was prized above all else for the self-pro­claimed ‘anti-func­tion­al­ist’.

To cel­e­brate Kop­pel’s in­deli­ble mark on de­sign as we know it, Ge­org Jensen has re­leased a set of six new items based on his orig­i­nal de­signs, in­clud­ing a vase, watch, hur­ri­cane light, his ‘Car­avel’ cut­lery set in a new black fin­ish, and a crys­tal carafe based on his fa­mous ‘African Girl’ pitcher from 1948. Even a whole 100 years af­ter his birth, Kop­pel’s nat­u­ral, or­ganic shapes are still the hall­marks of mid-cen­tury modern de­sign, and they re­main cov­etably con­tem­po­rary to this day. georgjensen.com

Kop­pel’s orig­i­nal draw­ing of ‘Pitcher 992’ and the fin­ished prod­uct 2 Hur­ri­cane light, from £55 3 Stain­less-steel vase, from £59 4 Crys­tal carafe with sil­ver wire, £1,500 5 ‘Car­avel’ cut­lery, from £95 for four pieces, all by Kop­pel for Ge­org Jensen

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