Building an International Reputation: The Georg Jensen Phenomenon in the United States, 1915-1973
Summation of the text by Susan Weber Soros as appeared in "Georg Jensen Jewelry"
The Georg Jensen silversmithy would have never become the international success that it eventually became if it was not for its success in the United States and the incredible marketing through the efforts of a few key individuals and its proliferation through a number of exhibitions and events.
The first exhibition for Jensen to participate in was the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco in 1915. Here he displayed in the Palace of Varied Industries, with other selected Danish works, (the main Danish National Pavillion was decorated to showcase traditional and historical Danish pieces).
The Exhibition was successful both for Danish silver as well as Georg Jensen specifically, where he was described as “our best Danish silversmith” and he”gives equal emphasis to shapes, ornamentation, and execution, and by doing so, he achieves the highest degree of perfection.”, and in particular his jewelry, with its bright, colorful stones, captivated the audience. The event ended with him being awarded both a gold medal for its original designs, and the Grand Prize for its silver jewelry. It was later rumored that publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst had purchased the majority of the inventory Georg Jensen displayed at the event, however this claim remains unsupported.
The success at this event had also spurred the silversmithy to investigate further on the marketing prospects in the United states, and they chose William Arup, whom worked on the Georg Jensen display at the Exhibition to do so. Arup was also possibly the one responsible for the New York location and success of Royal Copenhagen's porcelain stateside as well.
He first started his campaign by heading to the midwestern states, where a number of Scandinavian immigrants had settled and in the beginning of 1921, the Art Institute of Chicago had set up an exhibition featuring primarily flatware and hollowware with an assortment of candlesticks and lamps called, “Silverware by Georg Jensen”. At the time, silver production was limited in the US, and primarily done by factories focused on middle to low priced goods for the masses. As such, the critics had responded quite favorably to the exhibition and the Chicago papers had heralded him as “one of the world's most famous silversmiths” and “the exhibit contains much worth seeing”. In coordination with the event, an English translation of Georg Jensen's biography was provided by the Danish government,which helped to foster a more intimate understanding and recognition of Georg Jensen's work. Later biographies and sales materials would follow in coordination with these events, and with each new award, the list of accolades on the company letterhead increased.
A year later, in 1922, the Midwest was still an active area to showcase Georg Jensen's wares. With the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts offering a for sale exhibition, “Silver by Georg Jensen” which would be followed by other exhibitions of a similar vein in 1923, 1925, and 1926. Also at this exhibition George Booth, president of the society, purchased 3 pieces for donation to the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Booth was known for only selecting the finest examples of the decorative arts for the Institute and spoke of Georg Jensen as having “won considerable distinction... and became a pioneer in improving the standard of industrial art in Denmark”.
At the same time, the company sent over a man named Frederik Lunning, whom would become one of the most influential forces in creating the desire for Georg Jensen silver, and in fact, Scandinavian Design in general, in the US. From his meager beginnings, he would start by selling Georg Jensen from his room at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, and slowly rise to own one of the first Georg Jensen shops in the city. Lunning was a very shrewd man, and rather than simply selling Georg Jensen wherever he might, he specifically targeted the well off and prominent clientele of the city, banking on the silversmithy's exceptional quality and reputation to convey the value of the pieces he sold. By the fall of the same year, he had secured the upscale Black, Starr & Frost to sell his Georg Jensen tablewares.
It was also in 1922, that Georg Jensen began showing in New York at various exhibitions, like the showing at the Arts Center, which was written up in the September issue of the American magazine of Art, and the New York Society of Craftsmen's “Silver Craft, by Georg Jensen” at the same location two months later. The display at the Arts Institute in itself, was a fantastic opportunity for the silversmithy to forge connections with the artists and craftsmen of the city. The Center was the showplace for several organizations including the New York Society of Craftsmen, the Art Alliance, and the Art Directors' Club whom were all influential and dedicated to the promotion of the decorative arts and providing inspiration and advancement in the respective field. Being located in a well off area and having many noteworthy members, it could have only helped to improve Frederik Lunning's sales.
The exhibition was also well received in publications, including the Bulletin of the Art Center, heralding it as “being among the finest examples of craftsmanship produced in this age”, and the American Scandinavian Review similarly stating, “being the finest products of present day craftsmen” and the finishes as “soft and delicate as summer moonlight seen through a mist or still water.” From this the Newark Museum and the Metropolitan Museum both acquired pieces for their collections.
The Arts Center was only the beginning of the New York exhibitions. It was also with some of the affiliated groups of the Arts Center, primarily the Art Alliance of America and The New York Society of Craftsmen (which the firm subsequently joined) that another exhibition was launched in the Cooperative Gallery, where Jensen's jewelry was displayed alongside notable companies as Jugtown Pottery and the weavers of Flambeau during the month of November 1922 as well. The following year, the highly influential Park Avenue Anderson Galleries had also exhibited a variety of Georg Jensen Silver, whom were known to display the finest artistic pieces of the time, such as Georgia O'Keefe and Marsden Hartley, and whose customers included collectors as Randolph Hearst and John D. Rockefeller. The exhibition was accompanied by lectures and concurrent events and culminated in Georg Jensen being named “king of silversmiths” by The New York Times and was successful enough to schedule a return the next year.
These museum exhibitions, as well as others throughout the decade in discussion were not just an effort to market Georg Jensen or his silver. Although the silversmithy benefited greatly from them, at the time there was an honest effort to revive and promote the crafts in the United States. In the previous years, (and mentioned in previous articles), certain members of the Arts and Crafts movement had taken to looking overseas to the US to expand their efforts. The US also had not developed in previous years the appreciation of the Decorative Arts that had been fostered in European nations such as Denmark, and it was during this time that the US began to catch on. The United States also did not benefit from the former schools and training that European artists had, and the exhibits had become a way to foster the appreciation for the Decorative Arts and a source of inspiration to the local artisans, as well as issuing a challenge upon their visitors to hone their talents to the same level of quality as was seen in Europe and, of course held by the Georg Jensen silversmithy. Combined with Mr. Lunning's shrewd business sensibilities and flair for marketing, (whom by 1924 had secured his first shop across from Carnegie Hall as well as the exclusive rights to sell Georg Jensen in the US), it is no wonder that The United States at a time would be one of the biggest consumers of Georg Jensen silver.
Of course, the exhibitions continued. In April of 1923, an exhibition of pieces were displayed at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts, entitled “Exhibition of Modern Danish Silver made by Georg Jensen of Copenhagen”, which won favorable reviews and made mention that some of the pieces displayed were duplicates of those displayed in the Museums of Europe. In Detroit, he displayed at the Institute of Arts as well, including exhibits such as “Metalwork by Georg Jensen and Weiner Werkstaette”, “Silver by Georg Jensen”, and the traveling exhibition, “Selected Objects from the International Paris Exposition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts at Paris 1925”, which visited cities like New York, Newark, and Boston as well. In 1924, Georg Jensen was present alongside Cartier of Paris at the annual Art Institute of Chicago exhibition of handcrafts where he won the Albert H. Loeb prize for his original silver works, which was followed by the Arts Club of Chicago's annual exhibition and the Thomas J. Dee award for best silver work going to the silversmithy as well, followed by his showing at the Cincinnati Art Museum exhibition, Georg Jensen Handwrought Silver.
In 1927, the Danish government began to promote the artists and craftsmen of their country and organized a traveling exhibition entitled, “The Danish National Exhibition of Applied Arts, Paintings, Sculpture and Architecture” in order to create an export market in the US as well. The works of Evald Nielsen, A. Michelsen, and of course, Georg Jensen were selected and the exhibit toured to places like the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Albright Gallery, the Art Institute of Omaha, and Los Angeles Museum's Exhibition Park.
In 1929, on the 25th Anniversary of the Georg Jensen silversmithy, Jensen was decorated by the king of Denmark, and as a promotional backing to this milestone, a booklet was produced called, “A Danish Artist's Craft, The Silverwork of Georg Jensen: A Twenty Five Year Retrospect”, which also featured the works of Johan Rhode, Harald Nielsen and the other designers. This as well as the 1927 show would mark the beginning of a stylistic shift from the Skonvirke of Georg Jensen to a cleaner more modern Art Deco style, and also herald in the names of several other designers. In turn this shifted the brand of Georg Jensen away from the artist himself and allow the silversmithy to continue to grow and still represent exceptional design and quality. This expansion of what “Georg Jensen” represented, was timely as well with the promotion of other Danish artists, as it helped to expand ever further the notion of Scandinavian design and its viability in the United States, and satiating still the growing demand in the US for exceptional design which its own artists were still yet unprepared to meet. Fortunately for the silversmithy, they were well poised to take on this challenge, and in 1929, had begun a small mail order catalog out of the New York business titled, “Georg Jensen Handmade Silver Inc.”
By the time the 30's rolled around, the Georg Jensen Silversmithy was appearing in advertisements in the New York Times weekly, as well as regularly appearing in magazines such as the Studio and American Scandinavian Review, thanks to the efforts of Frederik Lunning. Sales were primarily in tableware still and unfortunately, with the change in tastes, as was noted at The International Exhibition of Metalwork and Cotton Textiles,the floral motifs of Georg Jensen's own designs were no longer fitting towards the most forward thinking trends, although reception on the West Coast was favorable. The silversmithy had also contributed in the 1933 Chicago World's Fair, although the Danish pavilion was a bit smaller than in previous years, and although sales were considerable, the majority of sales were still primarily tableware related, partially due to the Functionalism movement of the time, which dictated more clean geometric designs and which favored less expensive materials. Nevertheless, designers like Oscar Gundelach Pedersen and Harald Nielsen contributed much towards modernizing the jewelry lines, as well as later being joined by Sigvaard Bernadotte, although Denmark did not generally have much to contribute towards this movement. Bernadotte's designs, however, were well received in the US, including favorable reviews in the Goldsmith's Journal and New York Times and American Scandinavian Review.
The 30's had resulted in growth however for the silversmithy. In 1934, Marshall Field and Company began selling Georg Jensen wares in their upscale Chicago showroom, heralding the works as “Heirlooms of the Future” and Lunning's store in New York had relocated to a bigger space on Fifth Avenue and eventually expanding into the space next door, and with a clientele list including such notable names as Eleanor Roosevelt, Greta Garbo, and Marilyn Monroe, it was hard to say business was not good. The silversmithy also started to tailor some of its lines to American styles, reducing the number of larger chandeliers and ornate centerpieces, while also incorporating flatware suited to the audience, such as sectioned vegetable dishes, carving sets with specific purposes and items like iced tea spoons and cocktail oriented wares which reflected Americans' love of mixed drinks. By the time of Georg Jensen's death in 1935, which was nevertheless noted by the press as the loss of “the greatest craftsman in silver in the past 300 years,” the silversmithy itself had secured its next generation of artistic talent, and thus, its future. The silversmithy still showed along side other silvermiths at museum showings, such as the Brooklyn Museum's “Contemporary Industrial and Handwrought Silver”, and the annual Architectural League's exhibition to favorable reviews, and, in order to boost jewelry sales, a special 8 page catalog was created featuring numerous designs, in particular, those of designer Arno Malinowski.
In 1939, the World's Fair came to New York, and it provided a unique situation regarding the Danish-American relations. The Danish government, due to economic stresses, was originally unwilling to provide the funds for a display at the event, however they were petitioned by the Scandinavian-Americans, the Danish press, and the Danish silver and porcelain factories which had much to gain from being present at the event. Silver, and porcelain especially were heavily reliant on the American export market, and the Danish government relented, once the manufacturers proclaimed the event as important to studying and influencing international trends and in the exports which the economy would rely upon. A compromise was struck, and a single pavilion which housed the entirety of the Danish contribution (rather than individual rooms to each firm) was selected and designed by Tyge Hvaas around the concept of “home on a large scale”, or to showcase the items in a practical home like manner than a museum like display. Danish furniture and arts further set up the display, and were perceived as the “triumphs of industrial culture”.
The Exhibition was particularly good for the Georg Jensen silversmithy. Much of the Danish press had remarked upon how much influence they have had upon their American contemporaries, with the American press at the event in turn stating in the words of Mary Fanton Roberts of the Arts and Decoration publication, their works “make an emphatic impression in this country, where we are continually in search of new things that will make our homes more beautiful and comfortable”. Also, Georg Jensen silverware was used for the restaurant within the Danish portion of the exhibition, but perhaps even more prestigious was when the crown prince and princess visited the fair and presented President Roosevelt with an urn design by Bernadotte for the silversmithy. After the Fair, the Permanent Exhibition in Denmark produced a catalog showing items by the participants of the event, which was a great boon to some of the lesser known silversmiths in Denmark, although, of course, Georg Jensen was prominent on the list.
Frederick Lunning had also continued to be busy during the thirties. His shop began to show more Scandinavian wares, rather than simply focusing on Georg Jensen, a move that would eventually lead to the king awarding Lunning, the Commander Cross of the Order of Danneborg for his promotion of Danish goods. Also, after the World's Fair, and the lack of Denmark's showing in the subsequent Worlds Fair due to the Second World War, he was a part of the Danish- American Committee and continued to support and raise the funds for future participation at these events.
The Second World War had done more to just prevent the Danes from participating in overseas events. Silver supplies had been redirected to war efforts. At home, the silversmithy tried to maintain some silver specific pieces but also began designing in stainless steel. Hollowware and flatware were easily adapted to stainless, but for jewelry, more care was taken to minimize the usage of silver through inlays. Arno Malinowski was particularly skilled at the Japanese style designs using silver inlaid in steel, and the use of enamel began to gain prominence in the silversmithy's repertoire. Unfortunately, this only helped matters domestically for the silversmithy.
Overseas, the American audience was starving for more Danish silver wares, however exports were either severely delayed or impossible due to the conditions in Europe. As such, Frederik Lunning started to take drastic measure to meet the demands of his clientele in New York, by employing a number of jewelers and silversmiths to reproduce the Georg Jensen lines and later on, to create new designs for sale. In many cases the quality was inferior to the European goods. Lunning also started to expand his offerings even further, by incorporating goods from other countries such as England and India and even American goods, which conflicted with its original purpose of selling Scandinavian, or even Georg Jensen specific wares. This choice soon garnered criticism back home and was perhaps most ardently voiced by Viggo Sten Moller when he asked, “has managing director Lunning become so Americanized that he has forgotten us back home?”
Nevertheless, Lunning's continuation of the shop had helped after the war when Denmark, being less war torn than other nations involved, was quick to recover its exportation of goods which in turn helped to repay debts. It was also in the late 40's that Henning Koppel, was brought into the silversmithy's fold with his incredibly unique biomorphic designs, which contrasted with the also new designer, Soren Georg Jensen, a trained sculptor, with his incredibly stark geometric design.
The fifties had begun by seeing a resumed effort to promote Danish design through the exhibitions at museums throughout the country, including of course, showing in Chicago and New York. Thankfully, however, the promotion of the previous decades had paid off, and there was already a large demand for Scandinavian home goods. This was not just limited to the Silver of Georg Jensen, but all things Scandinavian, including furniture, fabric goods, and more. In fact, The New York Times had stated the goods from Denmark were, “The cachet of the homes of the artistic and intellectual elite, the darlings of museums and markets everywhere.”
With the relative post war ease of exporting goods, the silversmithy's first point of business was to restock Lunning's shop with new goods. In May of 1950, the first major shipment arrived, and included the complete flatware patterns, a large selection of jewelry and holloware pieces in a variety of new and old patterns, as well as reproductions of the various pieces donated over the years and some of Georg Jensen's own sketches for display at the New York shop, which would host many exhibitions of its own in the coming years, including a beautiful retrospective in 1952, entitled “Nine Modern Designers in the Jensen Silver Tradition”, which highlighted the works of selected designers from Johan Rohde and Georg Jensen himself to the works of Henning Koppel and the very utilitarian hollowware designs of Magnus Stephensen.
Unfortunately, Lunning's time was drawing short, and in 1952, after his passing, Lunning's son, Just had begun to manage the store in his stead. In many ways he had continued as his father had, however, more importantly, had continued the existence of the Lunning Prize which showcased many up and coming artists and designers throughout the Scandinavian countries, (and many of its winners would go on to design for Georg Jensen). The prize was also followed by a tour of the winners works throughout the US, as well as a $2,500 prize to each of the two winners for the year, which was to be spent on travel expenses as they studied abroad to further their studies in their respective fields.
Also during the early 50's, the silversmithy had decided to once again turn towards their customer's demands, and started producing less expensive, and easier to maintain, stainless steel lines to compete with similar products on the market. Originally, during the wartime efforts, this measure had found its place in the production of the Mitra flatware set and the reproduction of some of Bernadotte's designs, and although some critics had warned of a lowering of the Jensen reputation, the stainless steel pieces were well welcomed and expanded upon with the aforementioned holloware by Magnus Stephensen, and later on more pieces from designers such as Henning Koppel and others.
In 1954, the 50th anniversary of the silversmithy was celebrated with another retrospective sponsored by the Danish Industrial Arts Museum, tracing its humble beginnings to the then large business it had become, and the designers who it employed, as well as its matching catalog, “ Fifty Years of Danish Silver in the Georg Jensen Tradition”, and traveled about the US. Around the same time, the “Design in Scandinavia” tour traveled about and also included Georg Jensen silver in its arrangement of crafts from the participating Scandinavian countries, and accompanied with in store exhibitions entitled “Scandinavian Design in Use” at the Jensen shops, as well as other other businesses with either a Scandinavian origin, or upscale department stores. Overall they received great press coverage in the US and Canada. The publication “House and Garden” had stated, “The Scandinavians bring exceptional artistry to the design of everyday utilitarian things,” Design was particularly emphasized, especially in the 1950-55 series of exhibitions, “Good Design” which Georg Jensen had also participated in at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art's Merchandise Mart, where items on sale from the previous year were displayed. Additionally, Just Lunning, whom continued his father's legacy via the New York shop as well as the Lunning prize, also served on the selection committee for this event in 1955, and in the following fall, arranged for the museum to feature a short film on the making of Jensen silver.
In the following decade, styles began to change, and the price of silver had risen dramatically, which forced the company to refocus its efforts. Rather than as in previous decades, where flatware and holloware held prominence, the cost of such items had placed them well into realm of luxury goods, and fell out of favor. Instead, the company began hiring numerous new designers to create new jewelry designs which were in vogue at the time, and expanded their gold and diamond jewelry lines. Although the designs of Henning Koppel and Nanna Ditzel continued to be perennial favorites, they were soon joined by the works of Torun and others.
The museums continued to be a source of exposure and in 1960, the Metropolitan Museum had featured an exhibition entitled “The Arts of Denmark: Viking to Modern”which was organized by the Danish Society of Applied Art and Design, and backed by Just Lunning's support. The Royal Family of Denmark had also sponsored the event and selected a number of pieces to illustrate the history and distinctly Danish history of the crafts. Once again, the event featured many Jensen pieces, ranging the span from Johan Rohde to Henning Koppel, and in the following year, made a purchase of a set of Henning Koppel flatware. Corresponding with these events, Just Lunning had also arranged for displays in the New York store, the first of which was in the fall of 1960, and featured a number of table settings by various Danish designers and was featured in the New York Times.
Georg Jensen also figured prominently in Denmark's participation in the 1964-65 World's Fair in New York, of which Just Lunning also served as commissioner general for until he passed away in August of the second year. During his time served on the board, he pushed for the Danish government's participation, as well as the participation of individual firms at his own personal expense. The theme for he event was “Meet the Danes” and featured a broad selection of wares. Georg Jensen's products were once again, not only available in the pavilion's shops, but the flatware present at the restaurants utilized Georg Jensen flatware as well. Overall the event was described as “the biggest and most successful exhibition that Danish Commerce and trade have ever known”, although the businesses themselves seemed a bit apathetic. In 1964, the New York shop once again held an exhibition to coincide with the Fair, this time entitled, “Modern Scandinavian Jewels”, and displayed a history of Scandinavian jewelry and again met with high praise in the publications.
In 1966, Henning Koppel had secured a high distinction when his jewelry designs were submitted to the New York Diamonds International Award. Out of 1400 designers, Koppel's entry had secured three of the 21 awards. This was followed by an exhibition of his designs in the New York shop.
By the end of the 60's however, many of the trade associations began to dissolve, and the companies which had done so well in the past no longer ardently pursued the US market, nor attempted to exhibit as often. As a result, perhaps, Scandinavian Design fell from favor and was replaced by the works of Italian designers and artists as well as domestic designers. In 1973, Georg Jensen merged with Royal Copenhagen, although the silversmithy retained a devout clientele and interest by a distinct group of individuals in the US, where they continue to have a number of locations throughout the country, including the shops in New York, Chicago, etc. and continue to provide exceptional design and craftsmanship.
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