SALUTE TO GEORG JENSEN
From MURIEL COLVILLE
The Goldsmiths' Hall is hidden away behind. St Paul's in one of the few streets left unmodernised in the heart of the ancient City of London.
As you enter the huge carved doors, mount the stately staircase to the spacious reception halls with their panelled walls and costly carpets, you think of the hey-day of British craftsmanship when the word "goldsmith" conjured up visions of precious jewels and vast fortunes.
So it seemed fitting that the great Danish firm of Jensen chose the Goldsmiths' Hall in London, now the recognised centre of modern silver and jewellery design, as the focal point of centenary celebrations this month.
The exhibition commemorates the birth of Georg Jensen in 1866. Silver and jewels, some being shown for the first time, represented the work of one of the greatest craftsmen of modern times. Since his death in 1935, Georg Jensen's firm, headed by his son, is still turning out the silverware, cutlery, ornaments and jewellery for which the name Jensen is world-famous.
Because the master himself, his sons, and many of the team he gathered round him were primarily sculptors as well as silversmiths, the shapes of their wares are as exciting as any modern pieces of sculpture. Georg, in fact, was 38 before he became a full-time silversmith, and one of the first men he persuaded to join him was Sigvard Bernadotte, the artist whose name is linked not only to the reigning families of Sweden and Denmark but to the whole history of modern Scandinavia. Bernadotte's designs for modern cutlery in the 1930s were the first to be adopted for general use.
This exhibition stated clearly that what we call "modern" design can also be elegant. Though the line is simple and uncluttered it is seldom stark
and there is often great elegance in intricate engraving.
There were slender candlesticks, knives, forks and spoons borrowed from American museums of modern art, and bracelets created within the last few years by the young jewellery designers carrying on the firm. I inquired the price of an elegant fish-dish: "If it were for sale — which it is not", I was told, "it would cost around a thousand pounds".
Jensen, "impulsive, child-like and incessantly creative", opened a tiny shop in Copenhagen in 1904, employing one apprentice and a girl in the
ramshackle workrooms above the shop to make the modern silver he dreamed that one day would be turned out in quantity. Some 25 years later he had a staff of 250 and the realisation of his ambition: handsome modern silverware was accepted and acclaimed.
Putting over a new medium was not easy, however, in the early part of this century. The bourgeoisie of Denmark frowned on anything which
appeared sparse or simple. The more bits and pieces, ornaments and general trivia that could be crowded in, the more comfortable and prosperous the owner considered himself, it is said that servants took fours hours every morning dusting the 300 photographs in the King of Denmark's study.
According to Graham Hughes, art director of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths of London, Jensen's name is still famous not as a great man, not even as a great innovator, but because he succeeded where everyone else had failed. Indeed, fine modern silverware was not his own idea — it first appeared in England. What he did achieve was the successful revival of handwork in the machine age: Jensen designs are acclaimed as masterpieces in the world of modern craftsmanship.
Source: The Canberra Times - 26th November 1966