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Professor Bruno Mathsson.
1907 - 1988.
A retrospective Bruno Mathsson Exhibition is currently in Progress in Paris closing 29th October 2006.
As his countries most distinguished furniture designer Bruno Mathsson gained an international reputation for Swedish design and his work over a 50 year period will remain a significant contribution to Sweden's design history.
That he stood at the leading edge of furniture design is reflected in that many of his designs, innovations in their day are now widely acclaimed as timeless modern classics.
Bruno Mathsson was born a cabinet maker. His father, Karl Mathsson, was a master cabinet maker of the fourth generation and it was therefore obvious that the son would follow in his fathers footsteps. The son learnt his trade from the bottom up and thus acquired a detailed knowledge of wood technology and thorough feeling for the qualities of wood .
However. For the young Bruno this was not enough. Fascinated by the possibilitis he found in developing the form and function of furniture by using new tecnology he was inspired by the functionalist movement. By the 1920s and 1930s he had become deeply absorbed in his own studies borrowing literature on design from the curator at the Röhsska Konstslöjdsmuseet (Röhsska Arts and Craft Museum) in Gothenburg, Axel Munthe. Self taught he was to grow into one of the most celebrated interpreters of the functionalistic school of ideas.
In 1931 Bruno Mathsson carried out his first practical experiment in functionalism, the chair ¨Gräshoppan¨ (The Grashopper), inspired by a scholarship granted by Värnamo Hantverks- och Industriförening (Värnamo Craftsmen- and industrial association) and a visit to the birth place of functionalism in Sweden, the Stockholm Fair in 1930.
At Värnamo Hospital, who bought the chair for the reception area, people found it so ugly that it was put away in the attic. One item only has been preserved at the Bruno Mathsson show room in Värnamo. Now Bruno Mathsson had got his appetite whetted and enthusiastically he continued the experiment with the so called bent-wood technique. He created work chairs and reclining chairs in this technique and, at the age of 29, he had his first one-man show in 1936 at the Röhsska Arts and Craft Museum in Gothenburg. The walk along the road to success had started.
Bruno Mathsson had his international breakthrough as a furniture designer at the World Fair in Paris 1937. His furniture excited great enthusiasm and admiration and were in great demand all over the world. He was represented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York when it opened in 1939 and at the fair in San Fransisco the same year.
When the great upholder of culture in Sweden, Gotthard Johansson, had visited the Museum of Modern Art and seen Bruno Mathsson´s show there, he wrote enthusiastically in the Svenska Dagbladet on May 11th 1941¨For the first time in my life I felt a secret pride in being born only twenty kilometers from Värnamo¨. That was an acknowledgement that meant much to Bruno Mathsson´s self confidence and development as a designer.
Sweden of course meant much to Bruno Mathsson. He chose to stay on and carry on his work in his native town Värnamo. There he had his roots. There he could live in peace and develop his art. In reality, however, Bruno was a great internationalist. Early he made contact with people in designer circles all over the world. In the 1940s he made a long journey to the USA together with his wife Karin, where he met with pioneers in architecture and design like Charles Eames, Walter Gropius, Hans Knoll and Frank Lloyd-Wright. The journey was of great importance and gave, among other things, as a result the famous Mathsson glass house design. During the winter he lived in Portugal in one of his own glass houses.
He loved Denmark in general and Copenhagen in particular. One if the evident proofs to posterity if the danish contacts is the Super-ellipse table he created in co-operation with Piet Hein. During the 1970s Bruno Mathsson developed valuable contacts in Japan, where there is still a significant licenced production and sales of hios designs.
For a world artist like Bruno Mathsson it was essential - for his design language as well as for the promotion of his work - to play on well-chosen and well-tuned instruments. A well-composed exhibition was one of these instruments.
Bruno Mathsson participatedin furniture exhibitions all over the world from the Form Design Center in Malmö, Sweden to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Since 1964 on Bruno Mathsson´s furniture has been represented at a permanent show room at the Bella Center in Copenhagen. After his death several memorial exhibitions have been held, among others in 1991 at Hörle Mansion outside Värnamo and in 1993 both at the National Museum of Art in Stockholm and at the furniture fair in Milan.
Bruno Mathsson was a striking artist, wilful, stubborn and clever (in a typical way for his native county) and with a certain feeling for the simple, fastidious beauty and elegance in form. In all his work he managed to combine the beauty of form with well-thought-out function in a way that is but rarely surpassed. This is to be found not only in his beautiful, functional furniture but also in his glass houses which are market with exactly that - the simple, the beautiful and the functional. The light and the lightness combined with an ingeniosly well-thought-out heating system and well-insulated triple glazing make the peculiar nature of his glass house. Bruno Mathsson was in this way a pioneer.
It is, however, the furniture that has given Bruno Mathsson the reputation as one of the greatest designers in the world ever. In the technique of bending laminated wood he found a seating line that is unsurpassed in fastidious elegance and ergonomic function. The furniture he created have nearly all become classic. He gave each model a female name, Eva, Mina, Miranda and Pernilla etc. It gave each a sort of identity of its own. When, in the 1960s, Bruno turned to tubular steel is his furniture design, he did it with the same mastership he had shown in wood.
What makes Bruno Mathsson´s furniture unique is that - although to a great extent designed in the 1930s to 1940s and are seen as "classic" - they still feel eternely young. They are loved and bought as modern, functional furniture by young people and not just as collectors items for connoisseurs.
International sales are as high as ever and his designs find new audiences being exhibited at museums worldwide.
Like his designs, Bruno Mathsson seemed eternally young. He lived with and for his art and never seemed to get weary in his eagerness to create new furniture for a new age. At the age of 80 he followed the development in working with computers and created a line of computer furniture wich has the necessary qualities to become classic design of the future..
Bruno Mathsson was conferred with honours all over the world and was, of course, flattered by and proud of the attention. But there was one event he appreciated more than anything else. When he returned to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1970s for a show, the distinguished newspaper, the New York Times, had put a head line all over the front page -¨Bruno is back¨. He had become Bruno with the American people.
More than 55 years after his international break through, Bruno Mathsson posthumously attracts national and international interest. The cultural legacy he left behind is not only a swedish matter. It concerns us all.
Text Bruno Mathsson International.
Värnamo, May 1993
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