The famous annual Nordic Masters auction at Phillips is scheduled to take place on September 21. This year the auction, which bore witness to record sales year after year, focuses on lighting by Poul Henningsen and the collaboration between cabinetmaker and designer.

Henningsen Lights:

POUL HENNINGSEN Rare 'Paris' ceiling light, designed for the Denmark pavillion, L'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris designed 1925  Brass, painted brass, tubular brass. 60 cm (23 5/8 in.) diameter, variable drop Manufactured by Lauritz Henriksen’s Metalvarefabrik for Louis Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Estimate £70,000 - 100,000. Photo by Phillips.
Poul Henningsen, “Paris” ceiling light, brass, 1925, 60 cm dia., manufactured by Lauritz Henriksen’s Metalvarefabrik for Louis Poulsen, Copenhagen, Denmark. Estimate £70,000 – 100,000. Photo by Phillips.

Without a doubt, the biggest highlight of the sale is the rare “Paris” ceiling light, designed by Poul Henningsen for the Denmark Pavilion, L’Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, Paris. The lighting pendant is the result of extensive research by Henningsen and efforts by the producer Louis Poulsen. It carries the ancestral attributes of the idea that came to be known synonymously with Poul Henningsen: “system of lamp shades that completely surround the source of light so that no radiating rays can meet the eye directly.”

An “exceedingly beautiful light”:

The “Paris” lamp was originally named Système PH and produced in German silver when it was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition in 1925 and was celebrated for its innovative distribution of light with a gold medal, while Poulsen was awarded the silver medal. This was the reward of Henningsen and Poulsen’s combined efforts of meticulous perfection in the design through relentless research and experimentation with layered shade systems and different materials. However, the success of the lamp didn’t stop Henningsen from perfecting the design even more. He wanted to mimic the softer, gas lighting of his childhood, so the shades were dulled and the voltage of the bulbs was adjusted. Later on in 1925, Henningsen produced the new version of the lamp for the Schucani & à Porta restaurant in Copenhagen. He added lightly matted gold plating to reduce the glare. Shortly after that, this version was made with the same perfection. The only remaining examples of the ‘Paris’ lamp are one from the Paris exhibition of 1925, one from the Schucani & à Porta commission and the present lot.

More than 90 years after the Paris exhibition, Henningsen’s design has not yet been bettered and it keeps resonating that “exceedingly beautiful light” he worked so hard to achieve. All of the Henningsen design lots in the auction are from a curated collection of early important works, which are exceptional in age, scale, condition and provenance.

Cabinetmaker and the Architect:

The other important theme in the auction is the collaboration between designers and expert cabinetmakers. Painstaking craftsmanship and finely executed honest materials are the key to Nordic Design, just as much as innovative design, making the collaboration between designer and cabinetmaker essential. The fruit of this partnership was honest and pure lines, combining best materials with genuine craftsmanship, maintaining the warmth and beauty of the traditional Danish cabinetmaking while adapting to the needs of modern-day living.

KAARE KLINT Pair of early 'Easy' armchairs, model no. 5313 designed 1927, produced from 1936  Niger leather, Cuban mahogany. Each: 82 x 68 x 73.5 cm (32 1/4 x 26 3/4 x 28 7/8 in.) Executed by cabinetmakers Rud. Rasmussen A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark. Underside of one chair with manufacturer's paper label RUD. RASMUSSENS/SNEDKERIER/45 NØRREBROGADE/KØBENHAVN, faded handwritten inventory number and architect's monogrammed paper label. Estimate £30,000 - 40,000
Kaare Klint, Pair of early ‘Easy’ armchairs, designed 1927, produced from 1936 by Rud Rasmussen A/S . Niger leather, Cuban mahogany. Estimate £30,000 – 40,000. Photo by Phillips

In early 20th century, the interest and pride in handwork and traditional craftsmanship was on the rise, along with the National Romanticism movement in Scandinavia. In Copenhagen, the Cabinetmakers’ Guild started to organize Furniture Exhibitions in 1927, which was the main stage for the collaboration between the designer and cabinetmaker. Notable examples of these collaborations were between Rudolph Rasmussen and Kaare Klint, A. J. Iversen and Ole Wanscher, and Erhard Rasmussen and Børge Mogensen.

Father of Danish Design:

The forefather of these collaborations was probably the one between Rud. Rasmussen and Kaare Klint. The Head of the Furniture Department at the Architecture School of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and the teacher to many famous Danish designers, Klint’s work led to a complete renewal of Danish furniture design. Considered the father of Danish Modern, Klint prepared the basis for the clear and logical structures, avoiding anything superficial and unnecessary. Designed by Klint in 1927 and produced by Rud Rasmussen in 1936, the present lot was exhibited at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild, Kunstindustrimuseet, Copenhagen, in 1937. The furniture shown in the Cabinetmakers’ Guild Furniture Exhibition is now particularly sought after by collectors, boosting the prices. On top of the provenance of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild, Klint’s early work is in high demand in the market and this pair of armchairs will probably see bids much higher than the estimate.

ARNE JACOBSEN Unique chest of drawers, designed for Bernard Schepler's villa, Vedbæk, Denmark 1933  Cuban mahogany, Cuban mahogany-veneered wood, oak, brass. 125.2 x 120 x 46 cm (49 1/4 x 47 1/4 x 18 1/8 in.) Executed by cabinetmakers Rud. Rasmussen A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark. Reverse with partial manufacturer's paper label RUD. RASMUSSENS/SNEDKERIER/45 NØRREBROGADE/KØBENHAVN and handwritten serial number 11931.  Estimate £70,000 - 100,000
Arne Jacobsen, chest of drawers, 1933, produced by Rud. Rasmussen A/S, Cuban mahogany, Cuban mahogany-veneered wood, oak, brass. Estimate £70,000 – 100,000 Photo by Phillips

A young Jacobsen:

Another highlight from the auction is this unique one-off chest of drawers by Arne Jacobsen, designed before he was a world famous designer. Jacobsen designed this lot for the villa at Vedbæk Strandvej 464 in 1933. This house is one of the first projects Jacobsen designed in its entirety, working on both the building’s exterior and interior furnishings. The chest of drawers, which stood in the bedroom, is a rare collaborative work between Rud. Rasmussen and the young architect Arne Jacobsen.

Record Expectations:

If this Nordic Masters sale follows suit with previous years, there will be some big prices in the auction room. Phillips currently holds the record for the most expensive Nordic Design item in the world, with a custom made Peder Moos table that sold for £ 602,000 at last year’s Nordic Design auction in October 2015. The previous record, the “Chieftain Chair” by Finn Juhl was also sold at Phillip’s Nordic Design auction in 2013, for £422,500.

Phillips Nordic Masters catalogue

All photos courtesy of Phillips Auctioneers.