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Bruno Matsson

Swedish designer Bruno Mathsson (1907-1988) created furniture and architecture that helped to define the country’s style in the years before and after WWII. Taking his cue from the Swedish craft tradition, his popular wooden furniture explored organic, even anthropomorphic shapes. His buildings were recognized for their extensive and innovative use of glass walls and aesthetic coexistence with their environment. He possessed a modernist openness towards emerging technologies, viewing them as acceptable means to making high quality furnishings and expanding the notions of design and production. Mathsson also, like Kaare Klint, studied what he called “the business of sitting” in relation to the structures of modern furniture in order to make pieces that were customized to their function. He wrote that, “comfortable sitting is an ‘art’– it ought not to be. Instead, the making of chairs has to be done with such an ‘art’ that the sitting will not be any ‘art.'”

His father, Karl, whose furniture business in their hometown of Värnamo would later manufacture many of Bruno’s designs, trained Mathsson as a cabinetmaker and designer. In 1931, inspired by the work he’d seen at the 1930 Stockholm Fair, he created the “Grasshopper” chair. The woven webbed seat, a material he would use for many of his chairs, was stretched across a frame whose arm rest and legs were made of one arched wooden piece sculpted like a curvy interpretation of a grasshopper’s legs. The rumor surrounding the chair was that the people in the hospital who bought it thought it was so ugly that it had to hidden away out of sight. His 1934 “Eva” chair saw greater popularity and has remained an enduring icon of his career. This piece, a strong nod to the work of Alvar Aalto, was a more refined version of the “Grasshopper” and eventually evolved into a closely related series of webbed chairs, sofas and ottomans. He would return in 1942 to the dramatic undulant form of the “Grasshopper” with the “Miranda” armchair. Most of the designs in this series bore a female name, like “Mina” and “Pernilla,” and were attempts at making the chair an even more comfortable tool for the home. He also attached accessories like book rests to heighten the function of the work.

His work was shown in a one-man exhibition at the Röhsska Art & Craft Museum in Gothenburg in 1936 and he started to build an international reputation with his pieces at the World Fair in Paris a year later. His work shown at the MoMA in 1939 represented some of the first pieces of furniture ever exhibited by the museum.

From 1945 until 1958 he turned much of his attention to architecture. In 1958 he collaborated with Piet Hein on furniture designs and new production techniques. Mathsson began experimenting with the creation of tubular steel furniture in the 1960s. He designed the “Jetson” chair, upholstered in cloth, and the leather-covered “Karin” chair. In 1955 he was awarded the Gregor Paulsson Medal in Stockholm, and he continued to exhibit work internationally until the early 1980s.

Products by Bruno Mathsson