Finn Juhl was born in Frederiksberg, Denmark, in 1912, to a father who worked in the textile industry and a mother who died shortly after. Juhl's early interest in the Arts, and the history of art in particular, was stymied by his father, who proceeded to push his son towards architecture. Between 1930 and 1934 Juhl studied at the Royal Academy of Danish Arts, where he gained invaluable tutorship from Kaj Fisker, a leading architect of the day. After his graduation, Juhl went on to work for the firm of the renowned architect Vilhelm Lauritzen, and it was here that he was heavily involved in the interior design of the Radiohuset building in Frederiksberg. This building was remarkable for its early functionalist aesthetic, a model of modernism that Juhl would go onto wholly embrace.
In 1937, Juhl debuted a range of furniture produced in collaboration with master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder at the Cabinet Maker’s Guild exhibition in Copenhagen. The following year, Juhl produced the iconic Grasshopper chair. This piece, however, was deemed too radical by contemporaries, with its striking and unusual anthropomorphic forms, and as such never went into production. In 2018 one of the two original grasshopper chairs was sold at Artcurial auction house in Paris for €319,000.
Juhl was heavily influenced by abstraction and drew inspiration from the fluid amoebic forms of artists such as Jean Arp, as well as the powerful stylisation of African tribal art and even Ancient Egyptian art. These influences translated into many of Juhl’s chair designs, which are notable for their organic curvilinear shapes, often supporting his signature floating seats and backrests.
Throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, Juhl’s furniture designs garnered further attention, winning accolades not just in Denmark but on the international scene. He was particularly well received in America, enjoying the support of his friend, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., director of the Department of Industrial Design at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). In 1950, Juhl was approached by Baker furniture Inc. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, to design a range of furniture for the American market. Juhl only agreed to do so once he was satisfied that the quality of craftsmanship would be sufficient to carry out his designs. The following year, Juhl took on one of his largest architectural commissions, designing the interior of the United Nations Trusteeship council chamber in New York.
The 1980s saw the beginning of a revived interest in Juhl's work which has continued to grow into the present day, with Juhl now recognised as one of the greatest historical icons of Modern Danish design. Indeed, popular models such as the Chieftain chair have achieved hammer prices in excess of £300,000 at auction, with several other rare models realising tens of thousands of pounds. It is clear from these results that Finn Juhl’s legacy continues to captivate in the 21st century.