The Chinese Chair, designed by Hans J. Wegner and manufactured by Fritz Hansen Inc. of Denmark, represents a piece of Western furniture inspired by the design aesthetic of Eastern culture. Capturing the nature of Chinese furniture design, the chair features soft, sloping, and rounded armrests, giving the shape an organic quality. Made in cherry wood, the flowing form gives the impression that the material is extremely flexible; the smooth surface highlights how easily the wood seems to have been worked into this serpentine shape.
Designed by Wegner in 1944, the chair stands out as “the only solid wood chair in the Fritz Hansen Collection,” noting the importance of this unique piece to the company.1 The chair also serves as a milestone for Wegner himself, being one of the first major chair designs he created since opening his own design office in 1943.2
The chair reinterprets its predecessors, chairs produced in China during the 17th and 18th centuries, the period of ‘Classical’ Chinese furniture of the Ming Dynasty, which inspired Wegner to design his own creation.3 Although the beginnings of Chinese chair design extended far back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Ming Dynasty chairs were seen as being the most elaborate forms of ancient Chinese furniture design, mainly sparked by a rise in Chinese commerce, and the introduction of new joinery technologies that allowed for easier construction without the use of glue or nails.4 These new inventions led to a diversification of furniture styles, including new types of chairs designed with sophisticated hardwoods, graceful carvings, and varied shapes. The Chinese Chair was based on the Ming Dynasty Round-Back Chair, known as the yuanyi.5 This chair, with a horseshoe shaped curve, was considered a “seat of honor” usually reserved for high officials, and it would often be covered in luxurious textiles for those who had the privilege to use it.
Given the status of the Round-Back Chair, we can see why Wegner was so inspired to redesign a modern version for Western consumers. Wegner not only reinterpreted the smooth fluid wooden shapes, but understood the association of the chair with high-ranking individuals of Ancient China, a point of fascination for the mid-20th-century customer. Wegner’s Chinese Chair is a fine example of Eastern-inspired Western design.
Sebastian Grant is a recent graduate in the History of Design and Curatorial Studies at Parsons: School of Design, and a Cooper Hewitt Fellow in the Product Design and Decorative Arts Department.
- “China Chair” Republic of Fritz Hansen. Last Modified 2016. https://fritzhansen.com/en/products/chairs/4283_chinachair
- “Hans J. Wegner: Designer Bio” Carl Hansen & Son. https://www.carlhansen.com/designers/hans-j-wegner/
- Xiaoming, Zhang. Chinese Furniture. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pg. 20
- Berliner, Nancy, Beyond the Screen: Chinese Furniture of the 16th and 17th Centuries, (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1996), pg. 112