By: Caryl Rose Unger
As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2006
New York, New York....Itís a wonderful town!! Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen!....
Put them together and you have one of the most spectacular events ever to please Jensen lovers, collectors, artists and museum aficionados.
The Bard Graduate Center at 18 West 86th Street in Manhattan, from July 14 to October 16, 2005 mounted what can truly be described as the best showing of the Jewelry designs of the Georg Jensen Silversmithy. We were treated to an absolutely spectacular showing of the range, quality and originality of Georg Jensenís genius. There were a number of people and organizations who lent these wonderful items to the Bard. The majority of the exhibit is the property of a Danish Gentleman, who remains unidentified. How thankful we are for their generosity for lending these wonderful pieces.
Housed in a beautiful turn-of-the-century home on West 86th Street, the jewelry found itself very much at home in a building that had belonged to two spinster sisters. The Jewelry exhibit was located on three floors of the home. The upper two floors were divided into a front and rear exhibition space by a central hall that houses the elevator and stairwell. These spaces, which had been the living quarters for the sisters, are large enough, yet of comfortable size, to make viewing the beautifully placed and divided selections of the Jewelry.
Following closely after the completion of two very special Centennial Exhibitions in Denmark (Antiques & Art Around Florida Winter-Spring 2005), this exhibition focused intently on the jewelry output from Jensenís own hand and that of his fellow designers at the Jensen Smithy. The Bard exhibition was a worthy successor to the other two shows. In todayís world, Georg Jensenís name is synonymous with his Silver creations.
An exciting aspect of the exhibit was to see the original drawing for the jewelry juxtaposed with the actual piece of jewelry. In the same room was an actual die for the production of pin #159. This effectively demonstrated how Jensen was able to bring his handwork into the technical age, enabling mass production while continuing to use extensive hand finishing to give the final effect.
In the center of this gallery was another striking display. In a single cabinet, the curators gave the viewer an unusual opportunity. Jensen was noted for using semiprecious stones in his jewelry but most often the purchaser of the jewelry has no idea of what the polished stones looked like in their natural state. Here we were able to see the natural stones (from the American Museum of Natural History-just down the street) placed next to finished, jeweled pieces that were made from these raw materials. Thus we saw Malachite, Turquoise, Coral, Lapis Lazuli (Lasurite), Agate, Labrodorite, Opal, Amber, Garnet, Amethyst, Carnelian, Moonstone and Chrysophase. How wonderful to be able to see these stones and organisms before they have been cut and polished into the stones we all seem to recognize. Because of our enthusiasm for this exhibition, we visited the Bard six times. We invited our children and grandchildren to join us and this section was one of the highlights of the entire show.
The second floor at the Bard is divided into three parts. As we exited the elevator or stairwell there was a small gallery on the landing. There were 32 objects here and included were the only pieces of hollowware. They were all bejeweled and elegant. The Butter Dish was gorgeous. Requiring more raw silver and labor than the jewelry, these wonderful pieces began to be produced as the firm was on a more successful financial footing.
Also present on this level were multiple brooches, bracelets and pendants of varying size and complexity. Some were familiar models such as the Floral Pin #67. Others such as Brooch #57(designed in 1907) have not been exhibited publicly. This brooch in particular, is unusual because of the use of seed pearls and opals.
Also on the second floor is the South Gallery. This again focused on jewelry alone. Here we were treated to 56 examples of brooches, bracelets, necklaces, buckles, pendants, rings and a single hair comb. Jensenís own designs on this floor are of the early years and many had the beautiful floral motifs that are so characteristic of his work in this period. There is much that has the feel of the Art Nouveau period but many pieces exhibit open work that is a hallmark of the Arts and Crafts movement in Denmark.
The designs of Christian Mohl-Hansen were featured here Almost all of these showed a bird motif and have become highly identified as having been made by the Jensen company.
The North Gallery on the 2nd floor had 77 items on display. These gave a good demonstration of one of the dominant traits of the jewelry designs. Here the designers borrowed specific motifs from a necklace and used them to create bracelets, rings or earrings that could be combined as a parure or suite or used separately. The use of one element in several different types of jewelry could be seen in Bracelet #29 and Necklace #20. Another striking Silver and Coral necklace was displayed. This necklace is rarely seen in todayís antique market.
The third floor also had a gallery set up on the landing. Fifty-nine pieces were displayed there. These pieces began with work that was done between 1924 and 1926. This was the period when Jensen moved to Paris and set up his own workshop and retail store. Silver from that period may be marked Paris or have the Parisian marks and a small cartouche with the letters GJ inside with a small tower like mark between the letters. A bracelet and necklace from that period were shown. These were from a private collection and had no company marks. In this room also were designs by Harald Nielsen, Sigvard Bernadotte, Gundorph Albertus, and Henry Pilstrup.
There was one section dedicated to the iron and silver jewelry produced during World War II, when Denmark was occupied by Germany. Because silver could not be imported, Jensen created this series out of iron inlaid with small amounts of silver or gold. Many of these pieces were designed by Arno Malinowski, but some were created by Gundorph Albertus and Harald Nielsen. The iron Jewelry forms an interesting period in the history of the Jensen Company. Also shown nearby, were the Kingís emblems that were designed by Malinowski as well. These became a significant symbol of Danish patriotism and the resistance movement during that period of occupation by the German Army.
As we moved through this gallery, we began to see pieces that are still in current production.
The South Gallery on the third floor is dedicated as a Library and reading room. Here one will find several books regarding Georg Jensen and other designers for the firm. Significantly present on the walls were striking black and white enlargement photographs of the various hallmarks used by the company throughout its years of operation.
The last gallery on the third floor was the North Gallery. This housed fifty-five examples of work done after World War II and up to the present time. Featured were the wonderful biomorphic designs by the late Henning Koppel. It is interesting that the first design he ever did for the company has virtually become his trademark. Prominent designers from this period had their works displayed as well. Here we found the outstanding work of Nanna Ditzel, who died this year and Bent Gabrielsen. Gabrielsen first worked for the Hans Hansen firm, then opened his own workshop and later designed for the Jensen firm.
The exhibit ended with the striking works of Viviana Torun Bulow Hube and those of Astrid Fog. Torunís work forms one of the most graceful and fluid of the Jensen designs. Some necklaces include the featured jewels on the back of the neck rather than in the front. Many of her works used rock crystal or pebbles Torun picked up during walks along the beach. Many of the neck rings have interchangeable pendants. One of Jensenís most glamorous designers, Torun died in the past year. The final item in the show was a spectacular Arm bracelet by Astrid Fog. This was an adaptation of the use of curved bar-like elements to form three concentric circles that embrace the arm. This is a fabulous piece and is recognizable as her work in that her jewelry often uses combinations of softly bordered rectangles or squares.
As we finished this marvelous tour, we realized that we had been exposed to the most extensive collection of the Jewelry designs of the Georg Jensen Company. It gave us the opportunity to see objects we had never seen before. The exceptional quality of the silver and the originality of the designs is attributed not only to Georg Jensen himself but also to the cadre of designers who contributed through these 100 years. What a compliment to the genius of Georg Jensen and what a treat for the viewer.
About the author:
They operate an Antique business Imagination Unlimited, in Miami Beach, Florida specializing in the work of Georg Jensen and other Danish silversmiths. In addition to many publications they have lectured extensively on the Jensen story. Their interest has spread through their family and they are assisted by their children and now Grandchildren in both their work and their research.