For the past decade, Axel Einar Hjorth has been recognised as one of the most influential furniture architects of the twentieth century. One of his rare exhibition items is now to be sold at our Modern Auction this spring.
Primitive-modernist pine furniture, exclusive radical functionalism, classical elegance and sober bourgeois modernism – Hjorth was a trail-blazer across the full spectrum of interior design trends in the interwar period. As head architect for Nordiska Kompaniet (NK), he was the most important furniture architect in Sweden during the first half of the 1900s. While many of his contemporary colleagues chose to follow a rather restrained tradition, Hjorth took things to the next level, creating a unique, no-compromise design idiom that appealed to the financial and cultural elite of the age. Hjorth's idiom has survived and is truly international, which accounts for its great popularity among collectors and interior designers in cities around the globe.
NK manufactured furniture in extensive batches, but also produced some unique exhibition items. At our Modern Auction this spring, we at Stockholms Auktionsverk will be selling a unique cabinet, one of the most lavish works of Hjorth's entire career. The cabinet was designed for and presented at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1937 (Exposition Internationale des arts et techniques dans la vie moderne). It is labelled with the drawing number R 40231, which is dated to 19 January 1937 and refers to the cabinet that was exhibited in Paris that same year. The NK archives and sales statistics reveal no information about any other cabinets made to the same drawing.
NK and Hjorth had extensive experience in displaying their most exclusive furniture at national and international exhibitions. The World Exhibition in Paris in 1925, the Barcelona Exhibition in 1929, the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930 - all events that put Swedish design on the global map. The period was also distinguished by changes in the ideals of style. Luxurious classicism was replaced by strict functionalism. Axel Einar Hjorth was a pioneer in the aesthetic development and had a unique sense for craftsmanship, details and proportions - qualities that resulted in his sometimes peculiar design idiom remaining attractive and easily assimilated into modern interior design solutions today.
The cabinet is more than "just" a demonstration of an excellent design idiom and masterful craftsmanship. The objective of the exhibition was to boast. The lavish exhibition tradition with which NK and Hjorth worked for around a decade was intended to present the most expensive and exclusive items that NK could possibly produce. Cabinets were not created primarily for commercial reasons, but to market NK. The level of craftsmanship is so high that it is beyond what money can buy today.
Significant items of exhibition furniture are likewise becoming increasingly rare on the market. The cabinet on sale at this auction was the last "prestige cabinet" that Hjorth designed for NK. He ceased producing display works the year after the exhibition in Paris in order to devote more time to his own business. After the Second Word War, NK's production became simpler and more restrained. Hjorth's exhibition furniture from the late 1930s were beset by ill fortune, and a number of items were destroyed. The cabinet for the 1937 Paris Exhibition was believed to have been among the models destroyed. That the cabinet is now for sale at auction 77 years later is not simply a sensation, it also testifies to the fact that Hjorth's design idiom has not aged over the intervening period.