Just Andersen: Danish Modernist Metalsmith in the Ancient Tradition
A Just Andersen lamp in Thomas Jayne’s New Orleans apartment; photo by Kerri McCaffety. A photo of Just Andersen in a pamphlet published by Steve Turner Gallery in 1995.
The work of Just Andersen epitomizes the combined qualities of ancient and modern—the theme of this blog. His designs reference the antique by using traditional shapes and decoration, but their clarity of form places them in the realm of the modern.
I first saw works by Just in thrift shops. I was attracted to what I thought were their Asiatic qualities with a modern edge. In fact, I later learned that their shapes were derived from Nordic traditions as transformed by Andersen’s modern eye. Very little has been published on him and sources in English are even more difficult to locate. I have a rare copy of a small pamphlet given to me by Gerard Widdershoven of Maison Gerard (the renowned dealer of American and French Art Deco in New York) that I guard closely.
More from the pamphlet published by Steve Turner Gallery.
Andersen was born in 1884 in Greenland where Viking history and native Eskimo art forms both influenced him. His family moved to Denmark when he was a child and he continued to live there until his death in 1943. During his lifetime, his workshop and store produced a great range of work; his output and fame rivaled that of Georg Jensen and Bing & Grondahl. His work was also shown at all the important World’s Fairs in the 1920’s and 30’s and had a large international following, his exports more than equaling those of his Danish competition.
Andersen also trained as a silversmith. However, the majority of his work was in an alloy he invented called “Disko.” Approximating patinated bronze, it was less expensive and allowed his work to be reproduced economically. I speculate that because the formula for Disko is lost, his work cannot be reproduced with the same original effect, so it has become lesser known than Jensen’s.
Just Andersen lamp and fish sculptures; photos by Thomas Jayne.
Andersen’s work speaks so profoundly to me because the simple shapes feel classical, but are unabashedly modern. Many of the forms his lamps and vases take are subtle references to traditional ideas, but, their voluptuous contours, simplified rendering of detail (note the different kinds of fluting used on the bodies and the abstract design of handles) and distinctive finishes make them particularly beautiful. I like that they hint slightly of the Art Deco period in which they were produced, but simultaneously seem to transcend it. It is this complexity in a seemingly simple object that exerts a pull on me.