The World of Henning Koppel
by Niels-Jorgen Kaiser
(published by Georg Jensen)
Click HERE to see a timeline of Henning Koppel's Designs
(This article is a summary based on text found within this book.)
Henning Koppel was born on May 8th 1918, youngest of three children to Elise and Valdemar Koppel. Although not often present during Henning's childhood, Valdemar Koppel's influence was long lasting. Often stories would be told of Valdemar's dedication to his journalistic endeavors, (including once breaking three glass lampshades whilst testing a yo-yo for an upcoming article), and Elise was a very loving mother whom of shared her love of English authors with her children, reading them stories of Charles Dickens until he reached the schooling age. From there he attended H. Adler's Coeducational School in Copenhagen, an experimental school whose principles were ahead of its time. A family school and headed by his aunt, Hanna Adler, Henning Koppel attended with his brother Nils, and where Nils had taken to schooling, Henning had other interests. In the margins of the textbooks - and any other paper he might find- he would often doodle small sketches, which unlike his grades, improved as time went on. By the time Henning Koppel was 15, he had quit school, bought a nice suit, and set off to become an artist in the age of Jazz.
An attractive man with broad shoulders and a handsome face, Henning had the world at his fingertips, and was quick to work his way into the Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where under the tutelage of Professor Einar Utzon-Frank he studied sculpting before rushing to Paris with his professor's son to study at the Academie Ransom. Whilst studying under his new professor Charles Malfray, Henning Koppel would spend much time attending art exhibits and carving stone. In order to supplement his finances, following in his father's footsteps, often would write articles for the newspaper. As his brother Nils became his mothers favorite, Valdemar and Henning grew closer together. Also during this time Henning would also start to find a growing income in children's portraits and from there a child's bust. In September of 1937 debuted at Binger's in Copenhagen and by November, was appearing in write ups for his sculpture in black marble titled, "Father".
In 1941 Henning Koppel married Jytte Skouboe Petersen, and in 1942, their daughter, Nina was born. The rushed wedding and birth had put a strain upon the new family, as well as the grandparents, whom they were residing with. Soon after he had joined a few other students including Mogens Andersen and Soren Melson to form an avant garde group, Bolleblomsten, to much success, however the war was starting to get underway and Denmark was caving to pressure from Germany by 1943. By October of that year, the hunting of the Danish jews began and the Koppel family had begun to make their escape to Sweden. A fantastic story often told later on, the Koppel family escaped, although Valdemar Koppel had ended up after surviving numerous close calls with the Nazis had lost the majority of his fortunes to Danish customs, due to existing laws only allowed him to leave with 100 crowns.
During their time in Sweden, the Koppels, like many Jewish families in exile, did what they could to survive. Henning's art skills would continue to improve and by learning Axel Salto's concept of "Art for Goods" would often trade paintings for a piece of beef or other goods from the local shops. In 1944 Hannah was born, adding to the financial strain, and Henning started supplementing his income once again by filling in word bubbles in comic strips with translated text. Although well paid, it wasn't too artistically creative, but he became acquainted with the Bonnier family and had been commissioned for two small busts.
One day, Henning Koppel had the fortune to sell a large quantity of paintings to a particular artist's shop, which also invited him to try working in pewter. He took up the opportunity, creating a number of small jewelry pieces, sometimes working with enamel as well, which proved to be popular with the shop and caught the eye of Anders Holstrup-Pedersen, then head of the jewelry department at Georg Jensen. After the occupation of Denmark ended, Henning came back to his home country and set out to see what opportunities Georg Jensen had to offer him.
Without Holstrup-Pedersen's constant support and belief in young Henning and his bold new style, both Koppel as well as the Georg Jensen Silversmithy probably would not enjoy the success they have. With a shortage of talent due to the war efforts, Anders Holstrup-Pedersen was anxious to find new artists, and his own willingness to try new styles gave Koppel the chance he needed. Admiring Johan Rhode's aesthetics, simplified design with minimal ornamentation, Henning's first piece created for the silversmithy was the Amoeba bracelet with each link its own shape and design, both abstract yet incredibly organic, defining his style. Koppel had finally joined with Georg Jensen, although he was not to join the jewelry division but the hollowware, where his sculptor tradition (much like that of Georg Jensen himself), would prove to be a great asset. His first piece of hollowware would be a three armed candelabra with a wild and flowing organic shape that broke ties with the Art Nouveau traditions of the company.
Often rendering his works in ink, retracing line over line, Henning's designs would often push the limits of the silver chasers and apprentices who worked with him, as well as the limitation of the materials themselves. Following the candelabra was a series of pitchers, his attempt at creating "the perfect pitcher" which with its impossibly thin neck would challenge the workers as well as the craft itself. Dubbed "the African Girl" pitcher number 978 would prove as daunting as it was beautiful. Although designs are officially named by their number, this wouldn't be the only one of Henning's designs to be given an unconventional name. As time would go on, the worker would name one of his less than successful bowls, "Hip Injury" or, "Female Corpse In a Bathtub", making small jests at how difficult it was to render his shapes. Many of his designs were ahead of their time, "abstract utensils" that won many awards, but garnered little commercial success. It wasn't until 1952 with design number 992, or "the Pregnant Duck" that he would find his success and his "perfected pitcher". Henning was a perfectionist when it came to his designs, and would the most imperceptible flaws in his rendered pieces fixed and corrected, and not simply satisfied with functional pieces, he strived to create once again usable pieces of art, once again breaking ties with the functionalism of the time. His fish platter with lid was perfectly fitted so there might be no gap along the lip, a barely perceptible seam that would be found again in the tiny pillboxes he created following its success. Each pieces he created had a sculptural quality to it.
Soon after fining his niche, Henning Koppel won the Lunning Prize, and after spending some time in southern Europe, he turned his attentions to flatware, the bread and butter of the industry. Caravel was soon produced, the first stainless steel line for Georg Jensen, a clean modern design with tapering ends and beautiful shapes. Soon after would come New York in 1963, a pattern designed for New York's World Fair, where a full third of the flatware presented at the Danish restaurant was stolen by the guests. Following was Strata, the most successful flatware pattern of the time, with thick plastic "plates and a sturdy enough design to handle going through the dishwasher.
Soon after Henning Koppel would change directions and materials once again, trying his had at porcelain with Royal Copenhagen. Porcelain proved difficult to adjust to as structurally it was apt to changes during the firing process, which meant Koppel would soon learn to compromise (slightly) with the nature of his materials. Not to be daunted however, he would once again create wonders with a truly unique tea service and other dishes with clean modern lines, graceful curves, and his own definitive style. Although available with a delicate blue design, Henning's porcelain designs would prove to be more popular in plain white, as he had always wanted.
The following years would prove to be creative and varied, as Henning designed in many different fields. An oil lamp, designs for the logo of a soccer team, a postage stamp.. Henning's designs were varied. He Eventually settled back in to designing in pewter, a softer allow than sterling silver, and created a beautiful contemporary desk set. Later would come a minimal clock and weather station. Always working, and always a personality, a man with a certain magnetic charm and charisma, Henning Koppel continued to design until he died at 63, on June 27th, 1981.