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In the 1800s and 1900s, the historic Kähler workshop became a gathering place for many of the era's greatest Danish artists. People like Thorvald Bindesbøll, Svend Hammershøi and Kai Nielsen all made their mark on what today forms the DNA of Kähler’s design.
Hans Andersen Brendekilde arrived in 1885 and was the first actual artistic employee. Brendekilde was a painter and painted social-realistic pictures, and was at the time one of the country’s leading designers. During this time he designed products for Odense Glasværk. Brendekilde worked in Kähler’s workshop together with H.A. Kähler.
Brendekilde decorated the vases and bowls that H.A. Kähler turned on the wheel – mainly with flowers, animals and fairytale characters. The greatest impact Brendekilde had on the Kähler workshop was probably his artistic energy and the circle of other artists he attracted. Brendekilde worked with Kähler until 1907
Laurids Andersen, also known as L.A. Ring, named after the birth town of the southern Ring of Næstved. Ring was part of Brendekilde's circle of artist friends at the end of the 19th century. He painted landscape paintings and lived for a short time with Brendekilde. This was how he was introduced to Kähler for the first time. Ring was excited to try out ceramics as a material, but his ceramic career was limited to 10 to 12 pieces and would never have much impact on Kähler.
Like Brendekilde, Ring’s greatest importance to the Kähler workshop were his cultural contacts. Ring married H.A. Kähler’s daughter, Sigrid Kähler, thus becoming part of the regular circle of artists around Kähler. He often painted situations from the workshop and family. One example is the painting “Lamp Light”, which depicts his wife Sigrid, and a lamp base with octopus arms. It is said that the lamp base was his own work. The picture now hangs in the National Gallery of Denmark.
After joining Den Kongelige Porcelænsfabrik, porcelain painter Karl Hansen Reistrup needed a fresh challenge and was happy to accept the offer to work at Kähler. He was hired as a painter and modeller in 1888. He quickly moved into a loft room at the factory and started a close and intensive collaboration with H.A. Kähler. This cooperation continued until the next generation of the Kähler family took over.
Reistrup designed and models shapes, which H.A. Kähler then turned on the wheel. All figures were moulded in plaster so that they could be easily mass produced. Reistrup loved animals and created an entire ceramic zoo. He places cats, ducks and fish on bowls or frogs on ashtrays. But he particularly likes lions. This is evident in his humorous figure “Lion’s Lunch”. Here, the lion looks extremely satisfied at having just consumed a human being for lunch.
Some of his first animal vases were sold at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889. Over time, Reistrup would become booked up with large decoration works around the country, but he would continue to return to the Kähler workshop.
Architect Thorvald Bindesbøll spent a short time in the Kähler workshop, namely in the years 1890 and 1891. It’s was the artist L.A. Ring that lured him to Næstved. The stay at Kähler took place over two periods during those years. But none of the products he made during this time would be called masterpieces.
The best result he left behind was probably an earthenware pot with graphite decoration and a slip decoration. It is currently on display at the Danish Museum of Art and Design. During his second stint at Kähler’s workshop, Bindesbøll made an altar for Herning Church. This was made of glazed earthenware. Even though Bindesbøll’s stay at Kähler was brief, he kept in contact with Kähler for a long time afterwards.
Svend Hammershøi is a designer, painter and ceramics graduate who over the course of his life became a world-renowned artist with works exhibited in museums all over the world. He started working as an artistic designer at Kähler in 1893 and continued until his death. Hammershøi was thus the longest affiliated artist to Kähler’s workshop.
The first time Hammershøi visited Kähler, his most important goal was to learn the art of shaping, which is why he stuck to working with the wheel. But since he only worked for Kähler from 1904, he left the real craftsmanship to the masters.
A typical characteristic of Hammershøi’s pots and bowls is the powerful horizontal and vertical profiling. These are repeated throughout his entire production. During his time at Kähler, Hammershøi revived terracota ceramics, the unglazed, burnt red clay that, for example, was “muffle-burned”. This means that the object would fired in the oven together with sawdust, a technique that produced a smoked surface.
After a few years in the workshop, it was large pots and floor vases in unglazed red clay that caught his interest. He loved to turn these by hand to give them just the right look. This greatly appealed to the master of the time, Nils Kähler, who loved to turn large objects.
Another thing you associate with Hammershøi’s work is the white-grey-black works. These were created in collaboration with Jens Thirslund.Hammershøi had an invaluable impact on Kähler’s workshop and its development over the course of its life. Today, the inspiration from his work lives on in the Hammershøi series. Kähler’s current logo, HAK, which adorns all Kähler products, was also designed by Hammershøi.
The sculptor Kai Nielsen visited Kähler for the first time in 1921. This was just three years before his death. During this time, he was extremely productive, but many of his works were discarded because he was so self-critical. His ambition was to reach all people. He would rather sell his works and produce them in thousands of copies than have them exhibited in museums. So instead, he made many small figures to spread awareness of his art. And this boosted his earnings.
In collaboration with Thirslund, Nielsen started a major production of figures in 1922. These were made from old bronze moulds, which were previously used to cast bronze moulds. And the names of the figurines were just as inventive as the production method: The Sloth, Susanne in the bath, the Princess and the pea, Eva on the apple, Nina on the ball and the Globetrotter are just a few of them. The figurines became hugely popular both in Denmark and abroad. A dealer from San Francisco brought the “Princess on the Pea” home from a trip and displayed it in his store. But an American women’s organisation showed a lot of resistance to the “The Princess of the Pea” as they believed the figurine was sticking her belly out too much.
Jens Thirslund came to Kähler in 1913 at the request of an acquaintance. Despite not being qualified in the arts, he had an inherent talent for drawing. This was fueled by his love of art. Thirslund created his very own world of motifs, which he transferred to pots and tiles. And to random paper – and he often drew on wrapping paper. His motifs ranged from flowers to women, animals and ships.
The majority of Thirslund’s production was wall tiles. These patterned, primed tiles were produced extensively in the workshop. Thirslund had a great passion for ceramics, and this is what led him to explore lustre firing. He spent many nighttime hours deep in soot and smoke to explore this way of firing. This is how he came up with the black and white glaze used to decorate many of Hammershøi’s works. In addition to his work at the workshop, Thirslund also participated in many international exhibitions. He had separate exhibitions in Amsterdam and New York, but also took part in other exhibitions in Paris, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden and Belgium.
Jens Thirslund was an important person for Kähler history. In addition to his own works, he was an entrepreneur, developer and source of inspiration for many of the other artists, including Svend Hammershøi and Kai Nielsen.
Ever since Brendekilde became the first real artist to be employed, artists have joined year after year and contributed to Kähler’s DNA. Brendekilde was of great importance to the Kähler workshop not only for his designs but because he attracted a wide range of artists.
These included Svend Hammershøi, who would come to have an invaluable impact on Kähler’s workshop and its development. Today, Hammershøi’s iconic works live on in the Hammershøi series. Kähler’s current logo, HAK, which adorns all our products, was also designed by Hammershøi.
Craft traditions since 1839
Every contemporary Kähler design is a tribute to Kähler’s unique history and a celebration of the well-preserved craftsmanship, and it's also an imprint of current times.
Many of our ceramic designs are still based on craft traditions that go right back to when the Kähler adventure first began. Just as the skilled women ceramic painters at the old workshop in Kählersbakken hand-decorated the ceramics using cow horns, we still paint many of the designs by hand hand-cut the finer details and work with exciting glaze techniques. It is in the meeting between the precise and elegant brush strokes and the classic ceramics that Kähler’s unique design really comes into its own with its unique handmade look.