COPENHAGEN.- Every year thousands of new books are published in Denmark. The Book Art of the Year committee has critically reviewed the Danish book production of 2007 and selected around 25 examples of books, which in different categories each represent excellent design in a way that brings function and aesthetics together. Among the exhibited books the most beautiful book of year is selected, the publisher of this will get a special award: The Danish Book Design Award. Which books are to be nominated will remain a secret until the exhibition opens at the Danish Museum of Art & Design.
From the museum's own collection book papers made by amongst others Thorvald Bindesbøll and Axel Salto will be put on display during this period.
Axel Salto (1889-1961) is counted among the masters of Danish design, although his tenets for creative work often went against the functionalist aesthetics of his contemporaries and successors. Salto's decorative ceramics were couched in the forms of sculpture and were often several feet high or served no purpose other than to appear as art. His outcome was highly respected, however, and his pieces were bought during the height of his career for the collection at the Copenhagen Industrial Arts Museum. Formally trained at the Copenhagen Academy of Art, his style evolved from heavy, somber woodcuts, to painting and ceramics. He painted his entire life, illustrated several books of children's stories and poetry, designed textiles for L.F. Foght and was one of the founders of the journal Klingen in 1917. It was his sensual and unprecedented approach to ceramics, though, that brought his career into the international spotlight.
Salto's early work is inspired heavily by classical languages and Greek mythology-- his undergraduate major-- as well as by the visual motifs of Art Deco, religious and especially demonic iconography. His pieces later turned to the forms of nature, like seedpods, budding flowers or fruit, for their fertile energy and form. Salto's approach was to "create in accordance with nature, rather than to copy its exterior." Using relief patterns on the surface of his pieces, Salto was also able to use his ornamentation as a vehicle for the different glazing techniques. Rows of "seeds" or a more angular hive pattern on the outside of a vase would reveal the properties of the glaze as it slid between grooves, exposing its varying thickness and sheen.
He worked first at Bing & Grondahl from 1923-29 and later at Royal Copenhagen where he developed several glazes specifically for his pieces and experimented with colors new to the Danish palette, like bright turquoise. Salto maintained his own studio as well, primarily for his painting, but also for his collaborations with other artists like Carl Halier.
Salto's best known works are grouped into three categories: "budding," "sprouting," and "fluted." The names refer to the form of the pieces, which range from the angular horn shapes to low, rotund vases. Salto's work was unique for its time because of his uninhibited and passionate approach to developing and manipulating new shapes and colors. This energy went against the prevailing trend which was to create in the serene, cool style of Japanese and Chinese ceramics. He won a number of awards, including a silver medal for work he did at Bing & Grondahl at the 1925 Paris World Exhibition, the 1937 Paris World Exhibition Grand Prix and the 1951 Milan Triennial Grand Prix.
Thorvald Bindesbøll was a key figure in Danish design, a man who created his own unique style on the basis of contemporary artistic trends and an extensive knowledge of the art of previous epochs and other cultures. Bindesbøll is Denmarks most original designer to date, the Danish artist who has done most to open up new avenues of possibilities in the fields of ceramics and silver. Bindesbøll set new standards for work in crafts and design, and he was a leading figure in the developments that took place in the field of design at around the beginning of the twentieth century. His work still serves as a source of inspiration to this very day.
Thorvald Bindesbøll was born on 21 July 1846 as son of Michael Gottlieb Bindesbøll, the architect of Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen. Thorvald was only ten years old at the time of his fathers death, but he inherited his fathers love and interest for art and architecture. He was born into a circle of contemporary aesthetes and beaux-esprits, including some of his fathers students, who eventually became his teachers at the Academy.
He attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts from 1861 to 1876. And while studying here, Bindesbøll received his first independent architectural commission in 1874. In 1882 he managed to win the small gold medal, and in the same year he successfully applied for a travel scholarship to Northern Germany, the Netherlands and Northern Italy. Disappointment awaited him on his return home, however, because there were no architect assignments to be had. As a result, Bindesbøll had to seek other outlets for his creative talents. In fact, his entire life was to reflect the fact that working solely as an architect was by no means able to occupy his time nor to satisfy his need to express himself. As a result, Bindesbøll threw himself into all the many facets of working with crafts and design.
From the early 1880s Bindesbøll became seriously engaged in working with ceramics. Initially, Bindesbøll remained closely tied to Italian patterns decorated in the Classical style. Gradually, however, he was able to shed this influence and replace it by Far Eastern sources, and he then moved on to develop his own personal form of non-figurative art. In so doing, he placed himself apart from all others working with contemporary decorative art, both in Denmark and abroad.
As time went on, Bindesbøll was to try out all aspects of the decorative arts, and all materials used. While studying at the Academy, he tried his hand at designing embroidery patterns for his sisters. From 1887 he designed bookbindings. From the 1890s he designed furniture and artistic metalwork. From 1898, he designed silverware for A. Michelsen, later for A. Dragsted and P. Hertz, all of Copenhagen, and last, but not least, for Holger Kyster in Kolding. Silverware gradually replaced pottery within the range of work Bindesbøll produced. However, it is a distinctive feature of all his work that he paid scant regard to the actual nature of the material he was working with at the time. As a result, the same characteristic decorative elements are to be seen on a cushion cover and the binding of a book, on a table leg and on a bronze candlestick, or on an item of silverware. For Bindesbøll it was the form that mastered the material, not vice versa. There is no shape and no motif linked to any definite material, Bindesbøll once said.
1900 was a year of triumph for Bindesbøll. This year he received full, official recognition in Denmark, when he was given responsibility for the preparation of the Danish section for craft and design at the World Exhibition in Paris, where he also displayed ceramics and silver of his own design. It was in his capacity as commissioner for the exhibition, however, that he was awarded a gold medal. His contemporaries were not yet ready to observe and recognise the genius that lay in his artistic work.
In 1909, on the occasion of a small memorial exhibition for Bindesbøll, Mario Krohn wrote: Bindesbøll himself was absolutely convinced that in the areas in which he was best, he was not new in the most profound sense of the word. For posterity, Bindesbøll stands out as an artist who was able to release Danish art from the clutches of the styles of the previous centuries, and who was the first modern artist in Denmark.
In Denmark, the break with previous historical traditions and the Classical styles has been designated the Skønvirke period, and is generally considered to stretch from 1880 to 1920. It corresponds to the English Arts & Crafts Movement, the German Jugendstil and the French Art Nouveau. Just as was the case outside Denmark, Skønvirke was a reaction to the growing supply of cheap and poorly worked mass produced-goods that industrialisation had made possible.
Assessments of Bindesbølls significance have varied over the years, but his talent and impact has always been recognised. From his contemporaries he experienced rather negative reactions. In 1900 a critic wrote: Thorvald Bindesbøll occupies a unique position among Danish architects. Regardless of whether this is justified or not, he is perhaps the most renowned of them all, and certainly the one most talked about. He has created a field for himself within crafts and design, a field that is his domain alone, and his excremental ornamental work has set root in peoples general awareness. To what extent he is really called to serve as the person to be the salt in Danish decorative art must remain unresolved, but the honour of having provided fresh fertiliser for its growth cannot be taken from him. He has a powerful, original talent. In a similar tone, another critic warned visitors to the World Fair in Paris against believing that the fact that the Danish section of the exhibition had been set up by Bindesbøll, with the doodles that were so characteristic for him and his work, in any way made him representative of contemporary Danish art. Bindesbølls artistic honour lies in his absolute personal integrity and in his rich decorative bilities, which on this particular occasion have made a favourable impression on so many people. But precisely because of his special artistic status, he cannot and should not be considered as a representative of the school of thought currently prevalent in Denmark. As architects, both critics were among those used to working in a more traditional direction, so it is hardly surprising that they partly dissociated themselves from Bindesbøll in his break with historicism, though they were unable to deprive him of his significance.
The general attitude at the time, however, seemed to be a preference for the well known and perhaps also for the new naturalism and its sense of the romantic, as expressed in the works of N. G. Henriksen and Harald Slott-Møller, both of A. Michelsens workshop. Bindesbøll was apparently too radical in his powerful new shapes and his rough-hewn ornamentation.
In 1941, the director of the Danish Museum of Decorative Art, Vilhelm Slomann, characterised Bindesbølls efforts in a more unreservedly positive manner: In the revival of design and crafts that followed the writing of Ruskin and the work of Morris, and which broke out from England into the major countries on the Continent and which formed the backdrop to what happened in the world of porcelain, books and silverware in Denmark, the work of Thorvald Bindesbøll figures as Denmarks greatest artistic effort. He was the man who most strongly and most artistically fully understood what it was all about, and who brought the greatest talent to bear on dealing with the new assignments.
He achieved less recognition abroad, on an international scale, than others among his contemporaries, but his impact within Denmark was greater than anyone elses, and many will perhaps consider it too great. The fact that the Skønvirke style acquired a largely ornamental character in Denmark is due to the gifts displayed by Thorvald Bindesbøll.
Posterity has fully backed Vilhelm Slomanns assessment. Professor Nikolaus Pevsner calls Bindesbøll the most original ceramic artist of his generation. It has been said of Bindesbøll that if his efforts had been applied in the field of painting, his abstract imagery would have made him famous in the world at large at a much earlier point. His artistic abilities came to be applied in the world of the decorative arts, however, while it was only some years after his death that functionalism in Scandinavia developed the smooth style. Bindesbølls ornamented surfaces on ceramics, silver and bronze as well as in architecture were left to stand as an isolated rock rising above the surface of the river that rushed past and onwards with the undecorated as the main artistic idiom. More than anyone else, he represented the watershed between the stucco exoticism of the previous period and the pragmatic classicism of our time, standing in the doorway between the carnival architecture of the nineteenth century and the smooth, white style of the twentieth century.
Bindesbøll drew his inspirations from a number of sources. His father and his artist friends had brought an awareness of the decorative arts of Antiquity back home from Rome. The wall-paintings from Pompeii provided motifs in their decorative works, while the black-and-white mosaic floors did not win a place in their art. It was Thorvald Bindesbøll instead who took up this source of inspiration in his black-and-white style, and his earliest ceramic works feature classical ornamentation. He had an intimate knowledge of later European art and the tracery of leaves from the Renaissance and the powerful relief effects and characteristic types of ornament from the late Baroque are all recognisable in many of Bindesbølls pieces of silverware and on his furniture.
Other writers have focused on unfurling fern buds as the source of inspiration for one of Bindesbølls favourite motifs. The curled and rolled-up leaves that have a distinct resemblance to an ornament featured on an old Japanese sword decoration now in the Danish Museum of Decorative Art. Bindesbøll transformed this motif into the cloud ornaments so characteristic of his work. It was in fact at the very end of the nineteenth century that Oriental art became a significant source of renewal in European decorative art. The almost over-exaggerated naturalism of the Art Nouveau artists was clearly inspired by Japanese art and, although Bindesbøll only seldom employed naturalism as a form of expression, this Japanese inspiration is clear in works such as the vase with the large, foaming wave in Museet på Koldinghus. This was probably inspired by woodcuts by Hokusai (1760-1849) showing the Fuji-san volcano and the Great Wave. There are other examples, too, including a number of pieces of silverware, where individual cloud ornaments have been carefully and meticulously placed on smooth silver surfaces, such as a tea caddy in Koldinghus. A drawing from 1899 in A. Michelsens archives shows a similar use of individual ornamental features on an earthenware vase mounted with silver. Bindesbøll also made use of inspiration from Persian art, particularly as regards ways to fill out a base, a trend that moved in a different direction from the Japanese.
Regardless of the sources of his inspiration, Bindesbøll was not an artist who merely copied the original source. He distilled the essence from what he had seen, and used it to create his own particular style that was in on sense a distillation of the basic principles of nature. After having acquired a schooling in the decorative arts, the like of which probably no other Dane has ever had, he shrugged off everything he had learned and then produced a form of ornamental art that is both new and without equal in the Europe of his contemporaries or in the past. It is an art that is abstract, but yet is not built up of straight geometrical lines and circular forms. It is an art that has drawn on the forms of plant life that lie behind it to find a life-like, even life-filled, sense of movement that is carefully held in equilibrium within a clear, strong sense of the whole.
Bindesbøll and the silversmiths
Just as was the case throughout most of Europe, Danish silverware design in the latter half of the nineteenth century was locked rigidly into the artistic idioms of times now past. The historical approach resulted in the re-use of Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo and Empire styles in quick succession. In search of new inspiration, people began to seek as far back as the prehistoric. For silverware, the ornamentation of the Bronze Age and the Viking Age was to provide the new impulse. In Norway, ornamentation derived from the Viking Age in particular played a role in the Norwegian national regeneration that followed centuries of foreign rule by Denmark. In Denmark itself, however, Prehistory proved a dead end as a source of inspiration for the silversmiths.
The Nordic Exhibition in 1888 revealed that silverware had remained essentially static since 1872. The cultural historian R. F. Mejborg (1845-98) had already, in 1885, written (after mentioning Japanese art and after a reference to the collection of conches in the Zoological Museum as being suitable for decoration on silverware): Moreover, I would like to take the liberty of suggesting to these gentlemen and craftsmen that there may well be good and distinctive motifs at hand around our own coastline, and that the delicate shades of colour in many types of seaweed might well be admirably suited to attractive new works of multi-coloured silverware. However, more than a decade was to pass before any serious sense of renewal began to take effect.
It is a remarkable fact that although William Morris had started his movement many years previously, and that furniture and ceramics had undergone their period of change in the 1880s, the renewal in working with silver only arrived towards the turn of the century, in Denmark as well as in the rest of Europe. It is also remarkable that the renewal within the silversmiths craft in Denmark - the basis for Danish silverwares internationally recognised position in the twentieth century - did not come from within the profession itself. It actually came from people with a completely different background altogether - Harald Slott-Møller (1864-1937), Mogens Ballin (1871-1914) and Johan Rohde (1856-1935) were painters, while N. G. Henriksen (1855-1922) and Georg Jensen (1866-1935) were sculptors, although the latter was also a trained silversmith, and Bindesbøll was an architect. This process of revival began in the A. Michelsen workshops, the largest and the leading silversmithy in Denmark. However, the real modern breakthrough came from the new workshops of Mogens Ballin, Georg Jensen and Holger Kyster.
The growing body of criticism of poor quality, cheap silverware led to several of the manufacturers of silverware beginning to work with some of the leading contemporary artists in order to find designs that were suitable for industrial production, but which at the same time also maintained a certain level of artistic quality. The proprietor of the A. Michelsen workshops at that time, Carl Michelsen (1853-1921), was in the vanguard of the move towards renewal in the silversmiths profession and he opened the doors of his workshops for new artists such as Harald Slott-Møller and Thorvald Bindesbøll. In the Paris Exhibition in 1900 a very large stand from the A. Michelsen workshops presented works of both historical and modern nature. However, it was the works of a historical nature and the more naturalistic works depicting motifs borrowed from nature that received most attention. The real modern renewal that lay in the work of Bindesbøll attracted less attention.
At the time when Bindesbøll began design work for A. Michelsen, he was at the culmination of a career in ceramics, and his silverware proved strongly influenced by his work with clay. Bindesbølls dilemma was that he was able to implement his own intentions when working in clay, but when it came to silverware he was always dependent on the craftsmanship skills of the silversmith as a mediator between his sketches and the finished product. As one critic wrote about Slott-Møller and Bindesbøll: One has to ignore the craftsmanship aspects and look solely at the artistic result, as these artists soon reveal their lack of technical knowledge about the material for which they produce designs. In an obituary for Bindesbøll, professor Vilhelm Wanscher wrote: His ideal was that the craftsmen should themselves be in possession of so much culture that they could work independently. He himself put this ideal into practice in architecture and in his drawings and in his ceramics, whereas he can hardly be said to have achieved this freedom as a silversmith, because he was dependent on craftsmen who were not in tune with his methods and because he perhaps was tied. Wanscher also felt that Bindesbøll made a mistake in transferring his botanical ornamentation to silverware, when it was really intended to work within the medium of drawing. Another critic, Pietro Krohn, director of the Museum of Decorative Art in Copenhagen, wrote: His work in silver, executed at Michelsens, has powerful and categorical main shapes, and ornaments that correspond to these shapes and which were created as if to be implemented in metal. In his work, silver becomes solid and alive. The ornaments do not mean anything in particular, they tell no story, they merely serve to provide good decoration. Slightly later, Frederik Kastor Hansen, himself a silversmith, wrote; His designs for silverware are so incredibly alive and so impulsive that not even the most embarrassingly detailed examination can make the items completely boring and lifeless, as can be seen from those of his works that were produced in the larger workshops and factories.
Today, despite everything said about Bindesbølls work, it must be said that his silverware, with its many different sources of inspiration, created a style that had a profound effect on the silverware of the Skønvirke period. In terms of both form and decoration, Bindesbøll provided a radical break with everything that had been seen earlier. His work had great influence on the decorative art in Denmark, and most decorative artists working in this period were directly influenced by his style - a style that with its powerful plasticity and intense textural effect left its mark on Danish silverware up until the 1920s, and which rapidly became sought-after by the silversmiths of the period.
Bindesbøll began his collaboration with the A. Michelsen workshop in Copenhagen at the end of 1897 or early 1898, with the first drawings and designs dated February 1898. For Michelsen he designed hollowware, cutlery and jewellery. Shortly afterwards, he was also, but on a smaller scale, engaged in designing hollowware, cutlery and jewellery for the workshops of P. Hertz and A. Dragsted, both also in Copenhagen. From 1904 he worked solely with Holger Kyster in Kolding (hollowware, cutlery and jewellery) with the exception that from 1907 he also had cutlery and jewellery made by Rasmus Jensen in Horsens at Kysters suggestion.
On 27 August 1908, Thorvald Bindesbøll died, almost literally with his designers pencil in his hand. From his sickbed a few days previously, he had send his last drawings for Holger Kyster.