Jeni Sandberg is a dealer, appraiser and consultant in 20th century design. She has worked in museums, was a Senior Specialist at Christie’s, and also appears on WGBH’s Antiques Roadshow. She writes about fun objects on her blog. In this series, she will explore the history of decorative objects.
During the 1950s and ‘60s, Scandinavian design surged in popularity. In the post-war years, designs from northern Europe were considered elegant and modern, but still warm and accessible for those furnishing their homes. Danish modern developed a particular following, and many designers from Denmark, such as Verner Panton and Jens Quistgaard, favored simple forms with little applied decoration.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Danish designer Bjørn Wiinblad delighted in small-scale, highly detailed ornamentation. Born in 1918, Wiinblad studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen and was already exhibiting an accomplished array of works by the close of World War II. His highly recognizable style subtly evoked traditional Scandinavian folk art, and he applied his designs to a wide range of media, including textiles, glass, silver, wallpaper, stationery, posters and stage design.
Wiinblad is perhaps best known for his work in ceramics. Ceramics from Wiinblad’s studio tend to be highly sculptural, with figures standing fully in the round, and were made in very limited numbers. His works are generally hand-decorated and often explore themes of music and romance. His early works, particularly tapestries and studio ceramics, are increasingly difficult to obtain and becoming more desirable.
In addition to working independently from his own studio, Wiinblad also partnered with two major manufacturers, Nymølle and Rosenthal. Rosenthal, a German porcelain manufacturer, hired Wiinblad in 1956 as a designer for their Studio-Linie. Wiinblad, along with designers such as Raymond Loewy and Tapio Wirkkala, were brought in to modernize the production of the company. The porcelains were all white or black and generally with a bisque surface, which kept the line coherent despite the different hands. Rosenthal also executed lovely porcelains molded with fine geometric details and delicate gilt decoration. Wiinblad’s work for Rosenthal even extended into furniture designed with ceramic insets.
Some of Wiinblad’s most popular designs for Rosenthal depicted scenes from famous works of literature and music such as the 1001 Nights, Sinbad, Aladdin and Die Zauberflöte. His charming figures graced dinner and tea services, vases and wall plaques in either monochrome palettes or brightly colored glazes.
Wiinblad began his association with the Danish firm Nymølle in 1946. Most often, his works have a simple ceramic body but are transfer decorated with dense ornamentation in a single color. His whimsical depictions of the seasons and months of the year were wildly popular. In the late 1970s, Nymølle faltered, but Wiinblad stepped in and acquired the company.
As his fame grew, so too did his production. By the 1970s and ‘80s, Nymølle was manufacturing Wiinblad’s designs in large numbers. These later works are relatively affordable and an excellent way to acquire a piece of this designer’s work. The firm finally closed in the 1990s, and after a long and fruitful career, Wiinblad died in 2006.