Verner Panton

A biography

Over the course of his career Verner Panton (1926-1998) introduced a series of modern chairs and lighting with personalities unlike any of his Scandinavian contemporaries. With a remarkable faith in the unlimited possibilities of forms and materials, he worked successfully to create a new set of theories about how a chair should look and how it should seat someone. Experimenting with every material available, and propelled by the rapidly advancing technology of the production processes, he created a body of work that is astounding for its elegance and for the remarkable diversity of his pieces.

He was trained at a technical school in Odense, Denmark as an architectural engineer and then at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. He worked in Arne Jacobsen’s architectural office from 1950-52, where it is rumored that he was one of the worst workers, ostensibly because he was preoccupied with his own designs. He started his own design office in 1955 and, in the same year, came out with the tubular steel and woven cane “Bachelor” and “Tivoli” chairs. In 1958 his work as the architect of the Applied Art display at the Fredericia Furniture Fair was a harbinger of his non-traditional approach to the tenets of design. Shocking both attendees and artists, he displayed the furniture by hanging it from the ceiling of the stand. With his 1958 “Cone” chair, and the “Heart” chair the following year, both made of upholstered bent sheet metal, he began to subtly change the structure of the chair. The chairs had no discernible back, and no legs, and resembled a sculpted cylinder into which someone would be inserted. Because his chairs, even from the beginning, rarely had traditional legs, critics at the time suggested that they should be called ‘seats’ rather than try to imagine them as chairs. He revisited this shape in 1963 with the “Wire Cone” chair.

The 1960 stacking “Panton” chair, the first to be produced from a single piece of molded plastic, brought Panton international recognition with its modern and unexpected form. It was first shown at the Mobilia club and awarded an A.I.D. award in 1968. The shape of the chair, a single curve with no extraneous skeleton was designed to give a soft, rather than rigid, support and it was made is a range of bright colors. Originally produced by Fritz Hansen, it was later picked up and put into mass production by Herman Miller. Panton’s 1966 “S” chair, produced by Thonet, was similar to the “Panton” in shape and was the first single piece cantilevered chair in plywood. He also expanded this shape into the 1963 “Upholstered Seating System” pieces that were longer, stretched out versions, like a completely relaxed “Panton” chair. This series was inspired by Panton’s philosophy that a set of furniture should interact within itself as “a kind of chair landscape, which refuses to be just functional.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s Panton experimented with a radical series of upholstered environments. He wanted “to encourage people to use their fantasy and make their surroundings more exciting,” and to this end created the 1963 “Flying” chair, the 1968 “Pantower,” an upholstered unit with several levels, and the 1974 upholstered “Sitting Wheel.” Two chairs he created for Cassina in 1979, “Sisters Emmenthaler” and the “Mrs. Emmenthaler” chaise longue, were more playful and figurative, imitating the shape of the body.

Panton is also known for his extraordinarily unique and sculptural lighting in plastic and Capiz shells. He employed shells, UFO-like metal and plastic elements, plastic balls and brightly colored or shiny twisted strands of plastic to forward the philosophy set forth by fellow Dane Poul Henningsen that the design of a lamp should obscure the bulb or light source. Some of his most coveted designs from this time include the “Wonderlamp,” “VP Globe,” “Spiral Lampen,” the “Fun” series and the “Flowerpot.” The body of work produced by Verner Panton represents one of the most progressive and successful of the 20th century.