Famous Danes: The Legend Behind Bjørn Wiinblad

bjorn wiinblad danish ceramicist

There are few names in Danish art and culture that are bigger than that of Bjørn Wiinblad. In famous Danes: Bjørn Wiinblad we show you his art and the man behind the art. The first thing that springs to people’s minds when his name is mentioned is his unique candle holders and design. Ironically, his intricately ornate drawings on ceramic pieces, have a distinctly un-Danish look to them.

The long noses on the women figurines he sketched – Modigliani style almost – the ornate clothes with busy backgrounds were distinctly foreign. They are anything but Scandi minimal. The Scandis – and the Danes in particular – are famous for their/our straight, geometric lines in design.

But his unusual, ornate designs are as famous and popular today as they ever were.

Wiinblad’s Scandinavian Bestsellers – Platters, Plates, Vases, Candle Holders, Bowls and Mugs

Form and functionality are keywords and have been in Denmark as leaders of the modernist movement of the 20th Century and now into the 21st Century as well. Still, his vases, plates, platters, candle holders, posters, the cups, saucers and oven gloves, the trays, bowls, flower pots, sandwich boards and so on have been bestsellers in Denmark for decades.

bjorn wiinblad ceramic bowl on top of woman's head

Wiinblad was unique, appealed to the imagination, went against the flow and with that he created his own make-believe universe into which the Danes were happy to follow. Denmark is, after all, the country of fairytales. There is barely a home in the country which does not have at least one Bjørn Wiinblad product. In many homes his pieces have been collectors’ items over many years.

But how did a designer and artist, whose work was so ornately un-Scandinavian – become such a Danish phenomenon? Wiinblad was unique, appealed to the imagination, went against the flow and with that he created his own make-believe universe into which the Danes were happy to follow. Denmark is, after all, the country of fairytales.

Famous Danes: Bjørn Wiinblad

  • Born: 1918, Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Died: 2006
  • Education: Royal Academy of Arts Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Profession: Ceramicist, Painter, Designer, Stage and Poster Designer
  • Man of the Year, NY, 1985
  • Prizes: American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Cultural Prize and American Library Association, V&A in London, MOMA in New York and Stockholm’s National Museum.
  • Collabs: Europe, USA, Canada, Japan
  • Style: Ornate, Theatrical, Fairy Tale
  • Products: Household pieces incl. kitchenware, plates, cups, candle holders, vases, trays, posters, book illustrations, furniture, tapestries and much more
  • Design Characteristics: Female faces and figurines, long pointed noses, searching eyes, ornate dress surrounded by busy nature scenes. Drawings depicting scenes from operas and fairy tales

There was nothing like it on the market. In a world of muted colours, straight lines and understatement, Wiinblad’s swirly drawings and surreal shapes stood out.

Fame and Fortune beckoned

He achieved fame and fortune but still, he never quite gained complete approval from the Scandi art elite – possibly because he was not a thinker. He was a doer. His work was unique, but it was sold by the thousands – even on tea towels.

He achieved fame and fortune but still, he never quite gained complete approval from the Scandi art elite – possibly because he was not a thinker. He was a doer. His work was unique, but it was sold by the thousands – even on tea towels.

Wiiinblad mixed and matched his personal life and aesthetic with his professional life. As an opera and theatre fan he used what he saw on stage in his work. Many of his pieces feature sketches and interpretations of famous plays and music pieces. He mingled with young artists, collected their work and channelled everything he saw into his own world of tableware.

Wiiinblad mixed and matched his personal life and aesthetic with his professional life. As an opera and theatre fan he used what he saw on stage in his work. Many of his pieces feature sketches and interpretations of famous plays and music pieces. He mingled with young artists, collected their work and channelled everything he saw into his own world of tableware.

Bjørn Wiinblad Ceramics – Pottery and Porcelain

Although Wiinblad started his professional life as a typographer, he soon realised he had to create and use his imagination. He sketched and painted, but it was ceramics that was the making of him. And it is what he is remembered for.

His 1001 Nights and other fairy tale illustrations led him to draw on ceramic pieces and from that – painting vases, pots and candle holders with his distinctive decorative interpretations – followed the creating of his own ceramic pieces on which to paint.

He learnt different techniques in ceramics and it is those side plats, plates, cups, mugs and holders which are now in virtually every home in Denmark.

At the age of 39 – in 1957 – Copenhagen born Wiinblad’s star rocketed when he was made chief designer for the German porcelain brand Rosenthal. It was his launch pad onto the rest of the European market. And his flamboyant, generous manner was a marketing hit with people queuing up to buy his pieces and speak to the designer. Wiinblad’s work with the Rosenthal company was equally important to them not least thanks to his incredible work ethic. He was prolific and his imagination never seemed to let him down.

Wiinblad and Mozart

His output was extraordinary. For Rosenthal he created the extraordinary Magic Flute service set. Wiinblad was an aesthete and his love of music, particularly opera, came to the fore in this collection which is based on his favourite Mozart opera. Every piece in the service set shows a different scene from the opera which meant the rim of the plates had to be wider than normal to make space for his drawings of each scene. 

This wide rim was a challenge in the firing of the porcelain – a special firing technique had to be developed to help stop the wide rim from flopping in the immense heat. On the underside of each piece is the text of the opera of the particular scene, in Wiinblad’s own handwriting.

Bjørn Wiinblad Prices – the Middle Ground

Prices are surprisingly low considering the elaborate design – however part of the answer is the mass production. Numbers are just large enough to keep prices down and just small enough to keep prices above average… Keep and eye on the sale, you’ll often find items at half price in some stores…above is a tumbler, beautiful and keeping the drink warm…at half price £10 (full price £20).

Popular Products – Bjørn Wiinblad Candle Holders

The bread plates are a popular entry piece for Wiinblad collectors – and is ornate enough for some to use as a wall decor piece – but it is his functional pieces such as the candle holders which have proved among the most popular and memorable.

The candle holder lends itself to his idea that not only do you decorate the holder with paint, you shape it – so that a face painted on to the stem also has a nose pulled out of the clay. The nose is usually pointy and unlike anything in real life – giving it an artistic, fairy tale and surreal quality. It elevates the piece from the mere functional to a work of art in itself.

But there were problems along the way for the most recognizable figures in Nordic culture. Famous Danes: Bjørn Wiinblad was shunned by some of the artistic elite in Copenhagen because he mass produced copies of his pieces and some regarded this as a sell-out. He employed an army of people to do the hard labour, mould and paint and look after his creative process – but this also gave him the time and space to come up with new ideas for his next project.

Wiinblad was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1918 and died in 2006. He was a vibrant character, flamboyant even, always at young artists’ exhibition buying up pieces and thus building up a formidable art collection.

His purchases were stored at his home in Kongens Lyngby in Copenhagen. It’s a pastel blue wooden house in magnificent grounds with a host of rooms used as artists’ studios and entertainment. Celebrity guests included British pop singer Lulu and Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was a generous host with an energetic social life.

Bjørn Wiinblad Christmas Plates

Wiinblad’s Christmas plates are iconic, some produced with the German porcelain brand that made his name, Rosenthal. From 1971-1994 he designed the most elaborate and luxurious Christmas plates in limited edition, featuring gold and ultra ornate sketching.

Titles of the plates, high priced collectables, include Madonna & Child, Balthazar, Angel with Harp and Exodus from Egypt. Rosenthal also produced six Wiinblad Christmas plates in crystal glass, equally elaborately designed. Most aspects of this plate is highlighted in gold which catches the light and reflects through the clear parts of the glass.

Prices of Bjørn Wiinblad Products

Despite his prolific nature and work ethic, and mass producing most of his ceramic work, Bjørn Wiinblad’s pieces are high price tickets. The name alone stands for quality, uniqueness, decor and showmanship – attention grabbing items which are bought and collected for recognition value apart from anything else.

A set of his famous Magic Flute porcelain set for Rosenthal (60 pieces) has sold for £8,000. Christmas platter are several hundred pounds (as well as several hundred dollars), small pin dishes are going for £25 ($30). Although, with a bit luck, it is still possible to find a good deal on eBay where one of the original Bjørn Wiinblad Christmas plates from Rosenthal’s brand went on sale for £170 ($210).


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