Georg Jensen (1866 – 1935) Born in Radvaad Denmark. His birthplace and early childhood experiences are reflected in his work that incorporates natural forms and themes from nature.
His family recognized his abilities early on and encouraged Jensen’s artistic instincts. When he was 14, his family moved to Copenhagen so he could be apprenticed to a goldsmith. In addition to learning the goldsmith trade, he attended a technical school because he initially wanted to become a sculptor.
Eventually Jensen was accepted as a sculpture student at the Royal Academy of Art in Copenhagen where he graduated, age 25, in 1892. Although Jensen did not achieve success as a sculptor, his early training influenced his work as a silversmith. Unable to make a living as a sculptor and not wanting to remain a goldsmith, he collaborated with a friend, the painter Christian Joachim Petersen, in a pottery making business.
In a few years, Jensen came to the attention of Johan Rohde. Rohde was a painter, designer, sculptor, writer and architect who, with others, established an annual art exhibition, den Frie Udstilling (The Free Exhibition). This show challenged the traditionalism of the Charlottenborg show and gave Jensen a chance to show his pieces.
Earlier, Jensen and Petersen had a piece (“The Maid on the Jar”) accepted for exhibition at the Danish Pavilion during the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. The piece won critical acclaim both in Denmark and internationally.
Jensen’s Paris success helped him gain a travel grant from the Danish Academy. He spent two years touring France and Italy and was exposed to new art trends including Art Nouveau. His time abroad led Jensen to abandon his desire to become a sculptor and to begin his life work creating everyday objects in which utility and beauty combine to give pleasure to the user. He was soon employed by the Danish silversmith Mogens Baillin who permitted artists who worked for him to exhibit their pieces under their own names.
In 1904, Jensen went out on his own. By the time he was 37, he had his own silver business. That year, Jensen exhibited as an independent silversmith for the first time and the success he achieved hastened his career.
Jensen created a new style that was all silver and incorporated amber, malachite, moonstones and opals. The pieces were meant for the middle class as pieces of art. He made rings, brooches, earrings, bracelets, necklaces and hat pins. Inspired by nature, they were modeled like small sculptures.
Jensen was almost always willing to work with other artists. In one instance, he collaborated with the Danish Artist, Christian Mohl Hansen, to create the dove brooch. This motif was used on other pieces of Jensen jewelry and to this day remains popular.
His success with jewelry encouraged Jensen to make hollowware. He made a teapot with the now familiar flower motif. It became the prototype for a complete tea/coffee service and the pattern became known as “Magnolia”.
In 1905, he collaborated with Johan Rohde who brought Jensen clay models of flatware Rohde wanted reproduced in silver. Rohde liked the finished flatware so much, he suggested a more permanent collaboration in which he would design for the Jensen workshop. In 1916, Rohde designed the most famous of Jensen’s flatware patterns, “Acorn.” Their lifelong collaboration ended in 1935 when both men died within months of each other.
Jensen chose his collaborators well. Some remained with him their whole professional lives and others gained fame after they left his workshop.
Every piece was made by hand. In 1906, Jensen made his first complete set of flatware called, “Continental” that remains popular today. Serving pieces, in particular, became individual works of creative genius.
Beginning in 1909, Jensen began selling throughout Europe. His growing business required additional help. He soon engaged Harald Nielsen whose work was so complementary to Jensen’s and his other designers that Jensen often admitted he couldn’t recognize whether he or Nielsen had designed certain pieces.
In the 1920s, Nielsen created his own works in silver. The popular flatware pattern “Pyramid” is a Harald Nielsen Design.
When Jensen died in 1935, Nielsen succeeded him as artistic leader and by 1969 had celebrated his 60th anniversary with the company. In addition to his artistic contributions, Nielsen continued the tradition of finding young people who were trained in the Georg Jensen style.
Jensen was an artist not a businessman. As others were brought in to oversee the growing company, Jensen served as a board member and remained the artistic leader of the Silversmithy until he felt economic constraints limiting his creativity.
In 1925 he left the silversmithy and moved to Paris where he opened a new workshop. Unable to support his family, his stay in Paris was short. By 1926 he returned to Copenhagen and his position as artistic director at the silversmithy.
After his return, Jensen worked primarily at a small workshop at his home in a suburb of Copenhagen. He only visited the Silversmithy when his presence was absolutely necessary.
In 1925, he was awarded the Grand Prix at the Paris World’s Fair. At the 1929 World’s Fair in Barcelona he again won the Grand Prix and in 1932 was the only silversmith outside Great Britain to exhibit at the Goldsmiths’ Hall. In 1935, he won the Grand Prix at the World’s Fair in Brussels and died shortly thereafter.