Gustav Jensen called himself a “Designer to Industry” and created some of the most stylish packaging and products of the late ’20s and early ’30s. It was not Art Deco per se, but it exemplified a modernistic style. His peers and admirers called him the “designer’s designer.” He influenced many, including Paul Rand, who while in his early ’20s applied for a job in Jensen’s one-person studio (he did not get it).
Jensen was a big Dane. Born in Copenhagen in 1898, he studied philosophy at the University of Copenhagen but wanted to become an opera singer. Another interest, architecture, led to a passion for design and drawing, which was essential to his design work. He promoted his talents in the journals of the day but was not a self-promoter like his contemporaries, Raymond Loewy and Norman Bel Geddes. His commissions were significant—General Motors, DuPont, Edison, Morrell Meats, Coty and more—but his profile was less than the other white knights of industrial design.
Jensen was a classicist but also a minimalist—decorative but not ornate. He believed in beautiful functionality. “Gustav Jensen has a grand vision,” a friend wrote. “He is a man who has the courage of his own convictions. A lover of everything in nature, he is impatient with fakes, fads and fashions.” His design came to a resounding halt in the 1940s, during the war years, when nonessential goods were curtailed. He continued to sculpt, however, until he died in 1950.
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About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →