Architecture + Home Décor

The Danish Japanese Connection: Japan’s Impact on Danish Design

An interview with Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen, author of “Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design1870–2010”

In 2013, Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen published, “Influences From Japan in Danish Art and Design 1870–2010” the definitive book on the deep and enduring artistic bond between these two countries. In her book, Gelfer-Jørgensen—one of Denmark’s leading researchers in Applied Art and Design and a founder of the Nordic Forum for Design History—sets out to answer the question:

Why is it that Danish architecture and arts has been so influenced, and inspired, by the art of Japan, a country that lies on the other side of the globe? 

The author took as her start date the end of the 19th century, when Danish artists were among the first in the Western world to engage with Japanese art and adopt elements of it in their work. She tells us that the impact of Japonisme was so extensive it became an essential element for the founding of Danish Modernism in the 20th century. Throughout the book, Gelfer-Jørgensen illustrates how Japanese artistic processes—and the Japanese approach to materials—enticed Danish artists, craftsmen and designers to travel to Japan for extended periods of study.

Given our own fascination with the Danish Japanese connection, we asked Gelfer-Jørgensen for a bit more insight into her area of expertise. Here’s what she had to say:

SKAGEN: What examples come to mind when you think about how Danish artists and designers have adopted elements from Japanese art?

Gelfer-Jørgensen: Danish artists, in the late 19th Century, transformed Japanese subjects—including wild flowers and wild animals (mice, scallops, trout and insects)—into a style that today we consider very Danish. A few decades later, this transformation evolved to include simple forms and surfaces without decoration.

SKAGEN: Why do you think Danish architects and designers remain so attracted to Japanese design?

G-J: The shared attraction stems from focusing on good and traditional materials rather, as with other countries, focusing on extraordinarily opulent decoration. Additionally, both countries share a history of stressing their own national heritage rather than imitating bigger countries. And, for many Danish artists and designers, there is also a fascination with the Japanese tradition of working with design from the “bottom up.” That is to say, a deep understanding of both process and material.

SKAGEN: What about the Danish-Japanese connection did you find most surprising while researching your book?

G-J: I was amazed that so many young designers want to go to Japan and so many of them draw inspiration from Japanese art. It’s also worth noting that even when designers and artists have been inspired by the same art, the results are extremely different. This is because it’s the process and materials that they’re looking at for inspiration. As one cabinet-maker said to me: “Before, Danish artists travelled to Paris and Rome—now, we all go to Japan.”



Boris Berlin and Poul Christiansen. “Non” chairs. Komplot Design, Källemo AB, Värnamo, 2000. Kunstindustrimuseet. Photo: Pernille Klemp.

Finn Monies, Interior, house designed by the architect as his own home, Søllerød, 1957.  Photo: Pernille Klemp

Hanne Kjærholm, Summer-house in Rørvig, 2008. Photo: Pernille Klemp

Erik Christian Sørensen. Interior, house designed by the architect as his own home, Ordrup, 1954. Pernille Klemp.

Thorvald Bindesbøll. Vase, glazed earthenware, made in G. Eifrig’s workshop, Valby, 1895. Trapholt Kunstmuseum, Kolding.


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