The story behind
Johan Gudmann Rohde (1856-1935) was a Danish painter, designer and lithographer.
Rohde is the son of merchant Herman Peter Rohde and Ane Marie, born Schmidt. After becoming a student in 1875, he studied medicine and served his military service as an assistant in the navy. He changed tracks when he started taking classes at the Academy of Fine Arts, which he, however, found obsolete. He therefore helped to establish the Artists’ Free Study Schools, where from 1883 he studied under P.S. Krøyer and Laurits Tuxen. Rohde was a childhood friend of the author Henrik Pontoppidan, who as the artist himself was born and raised in Randers. Rohde is behind the portrait of this, which hangs at the National History Museum at Frederiksborg Castle.
Although Rohde belonged to the symbolist avant-garde of art, his design draws on a long tradition of ancient models. Shortly before he started designing furniture, he had been to Rome in 1896. Here he was inspired by the ancient Roman aesthetics, of which he saw distinguished examples in Pompeii and at the Museum of Antiquities in Naples. He also began collecting antique vases. Rohde never directly copied, but incorporated antique style elements into his own original design. Many of his furniture was initially made for friends and acquaintances, such as beds, cupboards and desks.
In 1906, Rohde’s long-standing collaboration with Georg Jensen began. The first works Georg Jensen made according to Rohde’s drawings – a cream-sugar set – clearly show the simplicity and elegance that Rohde strived for in his design. Sigurd Schultz describes how contemporary design must have appeared quite radically in all its simplicity. The set, which is made as two bowls, to which belongs a cream spoon, is not decorated with more than two soldered knobs on each side of the edge.
It is for the collaboration with Georg Jensen that Rohde’s silver work is especially remembered, even though he also provided drawings to Kgl. Hofjuveler A. Dragsted og Kgl. Court Jewels A. Michelsen. Rohde preferred Georg Jensen’s craftsmanship due to the silversmith’s special hammering technique and his use of oxidation to give the chiseled patterns depth. Stylistically, there seems to be broad agreement that Rohde’s classicism became a forerunner of Danish functionalism, both in silver work as well as in furniture design. Rohde himself writes in a letter to Sigurd Schultz, 1929:
“I sought for poor ability to avoid tastelessness, to bring forth a pure, simple style, to combat over-embroidery with ornaments that had no organic connection with the form, sought to get the material to its right. My first cupboard was quite square, straight up and down, without moldings, fillings or ornaments, and my first silver bowl was just as simple. It’s been 30 years since these things were made, and they probably did not strike then – now I think the style has struck through, even quite strongly.