The Cabinetmakers Exhibitions



“Our aim was to show what we could create with our hands, and try to make wood come alive, to give it spirit and vitality, and to make it with such a natural touch that only we could give it”




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At the turn of the nineteenth Century Danish furniture design had its foundations firmly in the traditional wood working tradition with small scale workshops employing a few apprentices producing everything by hand.  Wood was purchased locally for producing traditional furnishings for all rooms in the house as well as coffins. This was unsurprising as the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers Guild founded in 1548 was a powerful influence on the profession

As the early decades of the Twentieth Century passed, industrialisation was placing traditional Danish cabinetmaker’s under increasing commercial pressure from cheaper imported furniture and it became evident that to survive the Danish makers had to adapt.

The Guild and its member Cabinetmaker’s had not only to respond to increased competition but adapt to market trends and to the developments in European art and architecture that were leading to social change and the democratisation of residential interiors. The annual Københavns Snedkerlaugs Møbelundstillinger was inaugurated in 1927 to provide a platform for the profession in response to change.

The initial 1927 the exhibitions saw contributions from exhibitors in the style and design of the period but by 1930 it was clear that change was necessary. Progressive younger cabinetmakers and some modern designers challenged tradition and began to produce alternative furniture designs and a small number of Master craftsmen belonging to the Guild began to collaborate with architects in designing their furniture for the exhibition and by 1930 this trend was gaining momentum in spite of resistance from older members.

Continuity and change

In 1930 architect Magnus Stephensen was appointed to organise the exhibition. His decision set each exhibitor the task of showing interior furnishings for typical Copenhagen a two-room apartment was to change the direction of the exhibition.

Carl-jensen-cartoonWithin three years the collaboration between maker’s and architects had grown, the former seeing an opportunity increase sales and the latter the that of promoting their ideas to the industry and public for more modern interior design. To these ends in parallel, a panel of judges including Karre Klint was established to judge an annual architect’s competition of furniture design. Within a decade the trend was subject to satirical comment on the move away from traditional heavy wooden furniture to the ‘modern’ functionalist approach.

This developing alliance between artisan and architect combined with the annual furniture competition was fundamental to the evolution of a completely new style of furniture now recognised as ‘Danish Modern’ and to a golden age for the furniture industry in Denmark.

That the evolution of modernism in Denmark therefore took a different path to that of other countries. As the roots of Danish Modern were founded on the sound principles of traditional craftsmanship the focus of young innovative designers was in working with wood. In turn this attention to quality helped create a narrative that accelerated sales growth and established Danish Modern as an International brand.

A handful of this generation of Danish furniture designers were to gain International success amongst them Hans J. Wegner, Finn Juhl, Børge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen and later Verner Panton, Nanna Ditzel and Poul Kjærholm.

Hans J. Wegner and annual the Cabinetmakers Exhibitions 1938 – 1966

Unlike his contemporaries who trained as designers or architects Hans J. Wegner came from a cabinet making background having served his apprenticeship as a boy under Master Craftsman H. F Stahlberg in his home town Tønder before studying furniture design at the School of Arts and Crafts. Therefore,the young Wegner was ideally equipped to participate in Copenhagen’s annual Snedkerlaugs exhibitions which he first visited during his military service between 1932-1935

1938 – Stand No. 28 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Ove Lander

Cabinet-guild-1938Cabinet-guild-stand28-1938Wegner’s debut exhibition was in 1938 designing furniture for Master of Crafts, Ove Lander. This included a dining set in natural oak together with a sewing-table and easy chair in natural mahogany. The arm chair first appeared in an interiors sketch produced while Wegner was a student. The chair called the Stangerup Chair after its’s purchaser gives an insight into future characteristics that later typify Wegner designs such as the organic seep of the armrests and the chairs clearly visible construction details.



Interior-19387     1938-armchair1938-prototye-Ove-Lsander1938-prototye-rear-Ove-Lsander


1939 – Stand No. 20 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker P. Nielson

1939-CMGECabinet-guild-stand-20-1939Wegner co-operated with Master of Crafts, P. Nielsen to exhibit dining room furniture which was a development of the set exhibited the previous year produced by  Ove Lander.





1939 – 1940


This was a busy period for Wegner. In 1938 the architects, Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller set up office in Århus to start the project of building the new town hall. Wegner had been hired to draw furniture for the building on the recommendation of his teacher at the School of Arts and Crafts’ O. Mølgaard Nielsen. and was granted a year’s leave from his studies. However, his first assignment was in 1939 to draw the furniture for Nyborg Public Library and for a period he had also sent to Nyborg to oversee the building process itself.


1941 – 1966

The unique contribution Wegner was to make the International success of ‘Danish Modern’ and to Danish Chair design in particular can be traced seen in his designs for Johannes Hansen exhibited between 1941 – 1966.

1941 – Stand No. 12 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen

JH-Cabinet-guild-1941CMGE-1941In 1941 Wegner collaborated for the first time with cabinet maker Johannes Hansen , the son of a former Danish Minister for Agriculture. Together they exhibit a cabinet and dining set plus a living room group with sofa upholstered in green fabric. It was the first in an unbroken row of 26 consecutive appearances at Snedkerlauget’s between the designer and cabinet maker.

It was through the progressive innovation of designers like Wegner exhibiting their latest ideas at Snedkerlaugs together with the well promoted reputation for Danish craftsmanship that the chair more than any other designed object that was to popularise ‘Danish Modern’.


1942 – Stand No. 9 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen

JH-Cabinet-guild-1942CMGE-1942-2Wegner designs a sofa and armchair for the living room and  a dining set and cabinet in Cuban mahogany.







The dining chair was the first Wegner design  purchased by the Designmuseum Denmark during the exhibition.






1943 – Stand No. 8 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen



Wegner re-used the spindle backed armchair shown the previous year in Cuban mahogany together with furniture for a study al of which were produced in walnut. There was also a sofa described at the time as making “quite a splash” being upholstered in a green striped fabric





1944 – Stand No. 12 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen

JH-Cabinet-guild-1944CMGE-1944-fish-closedCMGE-1944-fish-open1944 was a pivotal and very productive year for Wegner in which he produced the Peter’s Chair and Table, the China Chair, his second rocking chair, J16 and The Fish Cabinet exhibited at that years Snedkerlaugs.



The Fish Cabinet

FISH-DRAWINGHJW-fish-LHdoor-watercolourSpecifically designed for Johannes Hansen’s booth at the exhibition on first viewing The Fish Cabinet when closed is an extremely functional cabinet characteristic of the Klint school. However, on opening the interior is extravagently ornamented with a design inspired by the organic life Wegner observed as a boy  along the banks of the Vidå in Tønder. Wegner drew and painted the watercolours that depict an underwater world of fish and plant life for the interior decoration himself.



HJW-Fish-cabinetr The-Fish-CabinetThe interior design of the Fish Cabinet can be interpreted as a teasing response by Wegner contradictary to the Karre Klint school of functional design which banished superfluous decoration. However, Wegner could not persuade Johannes Hansen to produce the cabinet, the interior of which required over 3,000 pieces of individually cut intarsia work. The marquetry inlayer contracted for the work said it was too demanding and impossible to produce.

Consequently the cabinet was completed by Wegner himself cutting and inlaying each piece over a three week period in his apartement. Wegner later recalled. I said, “Damn, I’ll just make it myself. So I sharpened a pocket knife given to me by Damgaard Jensen – it may have been more of a craftsman effort than an artistic one, but it was fun to make”. In terms of craftsmanship Wegner’s Fish Cabinet is perhaps the best demonstration of both his carpentry and artistic skills.


1945 – Stand No. 19 Hans J. Wegner, Børge Mogensen – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen



Wegner met and was befriended by Børge Mogensen while studying at the School of Arts and Crafts and the  two friends spent time at a holiday cottage over the summer they co-operate on designing all the furniture for the 1945 Snedkerlauget. The two friends agreed to split the rights to the designs and Mogensen took those for the Spoke Backed Sofa and Wegner the matching easy chair.

1946 – Stand No. 11 Hans J. Wegner, Børge Mogensen – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen



Oak-leaf-cabinet-drawingThe Copenhagen Cabinet-makers’ Guild Exhibition 1946 Stand 11 – Wegner and Mogensen cooperate for the second time and last time in designing the 1946 exhibition. Wegner’s notable contribution being the decorated cabinet with oak leaf and acorn pattern rendered in intarsia work.


1947 – Stand No. 23 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen

CMGE-1947 CMGE-1947-colIn line with the brief lain down by architect Magnus Stephensen in 1930, The furnishing of a living room was one of the assignments of the Cabinetmaker Guild Exhibition’s competition of 1947, for which Wegner produced a proposal together with Johannes Hansen. They called it a ‘Living Room for a Young Family’ that consisted of a rest and work area. The prize winning booth was a tours de force that was to firmly cemented Wegner’s national reputation.



1947-cabinet-exhitbition-bwCMGE-1947-2In the rest area Wegner presented among other things two completely different chairs that related to each other through the use of a common motif.. The one was placed by a coffee table, but stood by itself in the room like a modern sculpture, to be seen from all sides. This re-working of a traditional Windsor chair  attracted attention with its large, organic bow-shaped back. On viewing the chair Wegner’s contempory Fin Juhl christened it The Peacock.


The smaller armchair chair of the two was the predecessor to PP105. A solid practical chair that did not draw the eye like its’ sculptural companion  Its practicality was reflected by how Wegner placed it within the room, exhibited up against a wall, squeezed between a sofa, a bookcase and a worktable. This deliberate spatial placement indirectly revealed its proposed function, which was not as a chair one used for flopping down on, but for reading, sewing, or holding conversations. The current PP105 has only minor changes to the original 1947 model, it is a comfortable chair whose height makes it easy for even the elderly with less strength to sit stand up from.

PP550-frontpp550-ash-rearThe Peacock can be seen as Wegner’s first truly iconic chair. His earlier J16 Rocking Chair and the Chinese Chair FH4283 had both demonstrated his ability to draw on historical references had not acheived commercial success.  On the other hand the clear graphic lines and the visual impact of the Peacock Chair could not fail to be noticed. The chair also marks the development of a distinctive ‘Wegnarian style” combining highly developed cabinetmaking skills, a talent for three dimensional design and great artistic flair.


1948 – Stand No. 12 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen

CMGE-1948CMGE-1948-4Following the National attention the Wegner had received in the Danish press the previous year The booth for 1948 was more subdued featuring a living room in cherry and a dining table, chairs and cabinet in teak.








1949 – Stand No. 12 Hans J. Wegner – Cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen

1949 exhibition proved to be the significant for Wegner in that it provided the platform that established his international reputation.