DESIGN HERO HENNING KOPPEL
The Danish sculptor whose designs captured the essence of mid-century modernism
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