Finn Juhl, ‘Early and rare 'Chieftain' armchair, model no. FJ 49 A’, ca. 1950, Phillips

Property from Niels Vodder JNR

Endangered Species (see Conditions of Sale for further information)

Executed by master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, Copenhagen, Denmark

From the Catalogue:
The present lot is an early and rare ‘Chieftain’ armchair produced in Brazilian rosewood. Designed by the Danish architect Finn Juhl and executed by the master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder for the Cabinetmakers’ Guild, held at the Kunstindustrimuseet, Copenhagen where it was first exhibited in 1949. From 1944 to 1949, Finn Juhl designed some of his finest cabinet made furniture for the Cabinetmakers’ Guild, and the ‘Chieftain’ must be considered one of his most accomplished designs. During this period Juhl created the ‘FJ 44’ dining chair that was then described by one critic as having ‘a sculptural form which apparently strains the wood to its utmost limits.’ Then followed the ‘FJ 45’ armchair that was celebrated for its frame ‘which is beautifully modelled or organic like a bone’, as by stated the Danish architect Erik Herløw in the periodical Arkitekten. Each year during this period Juhl presented designs at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild that were executed by Vodder. The synergy and symbiosis of these two artistic characters created masterpieces of 20th century design. In 1949 Juhl designed the ‘FJ 49 A’ armchair, which became primarily known as the ‘Chieftain’, a title rarely used by Juhl as he referred to it as the ‘Big Chair’. The ‘Chieftain’ when exhibited at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild was well received and described in Politiken as being ‘so full of life that it seems to be almost quivering with vitality. It is expensive and as delicate as a thoroughbred must be.’

Although the collaboration between Juhl, then aged twenty-five, and Vodder began in 1937, it was not until the breakthrough period of 1944-1949 at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild in which Juhl began to incorporate his burgeoning organic and percipient approach towards furniture design. The ‘Chieftain’ armchair features handcrafted, accentuated and organic stiles, using exquisite Brazilian rosewood. The stiles support the shield-formed backrest whilst elegantly revealing the interstice between the seat and the load-bearing legs. The following statement by Juhl is manifested within the construction of the ‘Chieftain’: ‘I have always been interested in analysing a piece of furniture’s different parts, surely a consequence of my early excitement for Corbusier’s cubist architecture.’ Juhl continues to credit Le Corbusier further for the use of materials to ‘accentuate different planes and load-bearing parts. Thus, the apparent separation of the upholstered parts and the visual frame’ (Per H. Hansen, Finn Juhl and His House, Ostfildern, 2014, p. 34). These distinctive, yet brief comments by Juhl amplify his pragmatic approach and reveal architectural principles, which he then applied to the design of the present lot.

In discussing Niels Vodder, the Danish architectural journalist Henrik Sten Møller refers to the cabinetmaker as an ‘original craftsman with a distinct sense of humour.’ He then goes further to explain possibly why Vodder had ever agreed to collaborate with Juhl: ‘The reason why Niels Vodder became Finn Juhl’s cabinetmaker was that nobody else wanted to produce his furniture. They thought the furniture too strange and furthermore often technically complicated’ (Patricia Yamada, ed., Finn Juhl Memorial Exhibition, exh. cat., Osaka, 1990, p. 18).

Finn Juhl was always eager to assert that he functioned as an autodidact when designing furniture and that he was never formally trained. Finn Juhl does not imitate profundity; he does not leave us masterpieces of modern furniture but masterpieces of modern design. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., whom Finn Juhl worked with extensively, reflects upon the architect in his essay, ‘Product and Process’: ‘His forms are masterful, now as when they were new. They are capable of a plenitude of embodiments still unexplored. Juhl is no performer, he is a creator. We need more of him.’ (Ibid, Finn Juhl Memorial Exhibition, p. 13).

The present lot was gifted in 1969 by the Master Cabinetmaker Niels Vodder to the present owner, his grandson Niels Vodder Jnr, in order to mark the occasion of when he began studying architecture at The Royal Academy in Copenhagen, Denmark. The last ‘Chieftain’ to be ordered from Niels Vodder was by the Statens Kunstfond in February 1971, and Niels Vodder Jnr estimates that no more than twenty ‘Chieftain’ armchairs were executed in Brazilian rosewood, which was personally selected by the cabinetmaker from the hardwood specialist Risør - Træ og Finer, in Copenhagen.
Courtesy of Phillips

Signature: impressed with 'NIELS VODDER CABINETMAKER/COPENHAGEN DENMARK/DESIGN FINN JUHL' on the reverse of apron

Svend Erik Møller and Viggo Sten Møller, Dansk Møbelkunst, Københavns snedkerlaugs møbeludstilling 1927-1951, Copenhagen, 1951, p. 82
Esbjørn Hiort, Modern Danish Furniture, New York, 1956, pp. 54-55
Grete Jalk, ed., Dansk Møbelkunst gennem 40 aar, Volume 3: 1947-1956, Copenhagen, 1987, pp. 124-25, 233, fig. 2, p. 311 (for a technical drawing and images)
Esbjørn Hiort, Finn Juhl: Furniture, Architecture, Applied Art, Copenhagen, 1990, pp. 23, 40-41
Martin Eidelberg, ed., Design 1935-1965: What Modern Was, New York, 1991, p. 187
Noritsugu Oda, Danish Chairs, San Francisco, 1996, pp. 92-93 (for a technical drawing and images)
Arne Karlsen, Danish Furniture Design: in the 20th Century, Volume 2, Copenhagen, 2007, pp. 106, 187-89

Phillips wishes to thank Niels Vodder Jnr for his assistance cataloguing the present lot.

About Finn Juhl

One of the pivotal figures of Danish design in the 1940s, Finn Juhl introduced Danish Modern to the world, specifically the United States. As an architect and interior and industrial designer, Juhl was best known for his furniture designs that uprooted traditional historicist styles embellished with ornament and plush prevalent in the late 1930s, instead creating modern furniture along the lines of the International Style. Juhl’s Pelican Chair exemplifies the designer’s incorporation of form with function. The chairs, sumptuously sculptural and organic in form, were inspired by Juhl’s philosophy that “a chair is not just a product of decorative art in a space; it is a form and a space in itself.”

Danish, 1912-1989