Christian Fjerdingstad: a comet in the Art Deco sky
His luxury object collection is about to make its debut in the auction room at Drouot, revealing its Scandinavian roots.
Fish, blond and brown horn, ebony pedestal h. 15 cm, l. 26 cm.
Pot with lid in wood and horn, h. 14 cm.
Bowl on truncated cone foot, horn, h. 8 cm.
Danish designer Christian Fjerdingstad (1891-1968) had a sense of sobriety that developed on the rocky island of his childhood: Christianso in the Baltic, covering barely twenty square kilometres, where his father was the lighthouse keeper. Minerality soon became his field, and the sea his sole horizon. This explains why the marine world features so prominently in his creations. Subsequently, when his father was posted to less austere places like the island of Bornholm and the beaches of Jutland, the boy continued his explorations, collecting driftwood, shells and amber pebbles. Later, he turned to blond horn and ivory before discovering narwhal tusks: all totally new materials that stimulated his fertile imagination and set him on the road to art. He eventually became one of the most gifted exponents of Danish Art Deco.
Alongside the Avant-garde
The young Fjerdingstad was first apprenticed to a regional silversmith. When he discovered Georg Jensen's work, he was fascinated, and set off to Copenhagen in order to learn from him. But he felt ill at ease in the capital and left to set up a studio in Skagen. It all came to a stop when the First World War broke out, and his political commitment led him to join the Foreign Legion to fight alongside the French. After being seriously wounded, he received treatment and was invalided out, after which he settled permanently in France. He met two good fairies in the form of Fernand Léger, his neighbour in Fontenay-aux-Roses, and the famous couturier Jacques Doucet. The latter discovered the Danish designer's work at the 1921 Salon d’Automne, and became his first buyer. "You've sold a piece to Doucet? You're well on the way now," said his friend Léger. His work chimed in with the new aesthetic now gaining power: Art Deco. "The artist thoroughly absorbed it while losing nothing of his Scandinavian culture," says specialist Emmanuel Eyraud. This blend can be seen in sculptures, bowls, boxes and candlesticks where the purity of Nordic lines was expressed in the totally new materials favoured by the movement. In 1924, the company Christofle, a leading light in modernism, commissioned him to design its new collection. This was a sensational success at the famous 1925 exhibition, where his works in silver, often made with natural components, formed the focus of the stand and compared brilliantly with the work of Jean Puiforcat, Georg Jensen (the much-admired master) and Gérard Sandoz. The innovative formal vocabulary of these pieces established them as luxury items, and they were later marketed in silver-plated metal versions under the Gallia brand. The silversmith company financed the installation and organisation of the workshop at L’Isle-Adam, where Fjerdingstad decided to work. The partnership, which ended in 1941, lay behind the finest years in the careers of both great names, says Anne Gros, manager of the Christofle Museum and archives, which has eighty-one of Fjerdingstad's pieces. An apogee also illustrated by this pair of four-light candlesticks with a central narwhal tusk (€20,000/30,000).
The lots proposed in this auction come from the family, and have never appeared on the market before. They have particularly intimate connections, as Fjerdingstad had kept them in his personal collection. There are not very many of them – no more than thirty-odd – and are apparently utilitarian: small in terms of size but impressive in the simplicity of their pure, fluid lines and use of precious, hard-to-work materials, "all modelled and polished with considerable dexterity”, says the specialist. Their refinement links them with works by designers like Eugénie O’Kin (1880-1948), Henri Simmen (1880-1963) and Georges Bastard (1881-1939). Unsurprisingly, these personal objects include no fewer than ten fish. None can be identified; all of them evoke the world of the sea, whether one sculpture in blond and brown horn with an ebony pedestal (€4,000/6,000), another carved from red amber, mounted in silver on a horn base (€5,000/8,000), or a free-standing piece in engraved horn (€2,000/3,000). They all clearly hark back to his native island.