“Keep your finger on the pulse and try to develop critical thinking by comparing past and present designs" - Frits Henningsen
Frits Henningsen (1889-1965) was and is known for his uncompromising and perfectionist approach to craftsmanship, his vibrant character and powerful designs. Today, several works of his are considered to be among the finest of the Danish furniture made in the 20th century ⏤ and for good reason.
Henningsen was apprenticed at an early age to one of the most recognised master cabinetmakers of his day, I. P. Mørck on Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen. Mørck worked closely with many of the greatest Danish architects of the era, crafting furniture for Martin Nyrop (1849-1921), Johan Rohde (1856-1935) and Thorvald Bindesbøll (1846-1908), among others, each of whom, left a unique mark on Danish design and cultural history, and became major inspirational sources for Henningsen.
Although most are not particularly familiar with Mørck's carpentry workshop today, in the early 1900s it was one of the most prominent workshops. One of his greatest achievements was his participation in the prestigious 1925 World Exhibition in Paris, where he was awarded the 'Grand Prix' medal for his creation of furniture by architect Johan Rohde. One of the greatest recognitions of the time.
The later famous master cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen (1886-1961) was trained at Mørck and master cabinetmaker Jacob Kjær (1896-1957) also worked as a cabinetmaker in the workshop in his early days.
Portrait of Frits Henningsen. Photo: Unknown
Thus, Frits Henningsen grew up with, at least professionally, 'Skønvirke' (the Danish parallel to Art Nouveau) furniture, which was the big trend in 1911. As Henningsen completed his training as a cabinetmaker at I. P. Mørck the same year, it may be assumed that Henningsen was involved in the production of the chairs for Copenhagen Town Hall, which architect Martin Nyrop ordered I. P. Mørck to craft in the early 1900s. A town hall that is very much influenced by the Danish Skønvirke movement.
After graduating, Henningsen traveled to work in Germany, France and England, which gave him the opportunity to captue expressions from each culture and stylistic idiom which he later reinterpreted with a more modern twist. Henningsen was known as an uncompromising designer and, unlike many other furniture designers of the time, he always crafted his own furniture, which he began in 1915 after having returned to Copenhagen from his travels abroad.
A pair of Wingback Chairs by Frits Henningsen, 1935. Today, this model is considered Henningsen's masterpiece, encapsulating his uncompromising craftsmanship and extraordinary design language. The present chairs are in original patinated aniline leather and patinated solid oak legs.
And it was in 1915, that he established his own furniture store on Nikolaj Plads in central Copenhagen, not far from his workshop in Dronningens Tværgade. The store was located in a restored 18th-century Baroque building, which from 1934 was adjacent to A.C. Bang's new modern building, designed by the modernist architect Bent Helweg-Møller (1883-1956). Both buildings still exist today.
Frits Henningsen's furniture store on Nikolaj Plads in Copenhagen.
Photo by Københavns Stadsarkitekt
Photo by Københavns Stadsarkitekt
In addition to exhibiting his furniture in his store, Frits Henningsen also participated in the Cabinetmakers' Guild's prestigious furniture exhibitions from 1927 to 1937 and was a registered member of the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers' Guild, from which he received great recognition for his commitment to the art of carpentry.
The influence of the French Empire style, the Rococo and 17th century English furniture is evident in many of Frits Henningsen's works. Shown here is the 'ear flap' of his iconic 'Wingback Chair', 1935.
Inspired by the Rococo, French Empire and 17th century English furniture, Henningsen found his own unique expression for which he is widely recognised today. His soft curves, functional solutions, and timelessness are rooted in Danish traditions of craftsmanship and might be the reason why Frits Henningsen's furniture is some of the most sought-after from the golden age of Danish design today.