Bruno Mathsson

1907 - 1988

Bruno Mathsson

The Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson belongs to the pioneers of Scandinavian furniture art, renowned for his experiments with the techniques of bent laminated wood. Preoccupied with finding the perfect sitting curve Mathsson already in the early 1930s worked with a highly developed laminating technique, giving him a freer hand with regard to the plasticity of the wood. In his careful analyses of comfort he turned away from traditional upholstery and covered his one piece frames of contoured bentwood with plaited webbing in canvas or leather.

This early work resulted in three basic models; a working chair, an easy chair and a lounge chair, all presented at his first one man exhibition at The Röhsska Museum of Arts & Crafts in Gothenburg in 1936. The exhibition designated Bruno Mathsson’s breakthrough and paved the way for the international recognition he gained when his daybed Paris was awarded the Grand Prix at the world exhibition Paris Expo the following year. After this, MOMA in New York ordered Mathsson’s chairs for the tearoom in its new building.

Mathsson’s father, Karl Mathsson, was the fourth generation of master cabinetmakers, so Mathsson grew up acquiring the skills of the handicraft tradition. He trained as a cabinetmaker in his father’s workshop in Värnamo, but as an architect and furniture designer he was self-taught. The young Mathsson was fascinated by the new ideas of Functionalism and closely studied the heaps of books and magazines about architecture and design he borrowed at The Röhsska Museum of Arts & Crafts in Gothenburg. After an inspirational visit to the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, he eagerly started experimenting with his own designs and had them manufactured in his father’s workshop.

In the 1950s Mathsson turned towards architecture and designed about forty buildings, including single-family houses, exhibition halls and schools, often incorporating large frames of glass for a maximum benefit of natural light. In the 1960s he returned to furniture making, most notably he collaborated with the Danish poet, mathematician and technician Piet Hein on the Super-ellipse table. Nevertheless, it is the light elegance of his early bentwood forms that has made him a leading figure of the modernist movement. Driven by ergonomics, functionality and a progressive, minimalistic idiom Bruno Mathsson’s work holds a timeless quality.