Karl Gustav Hansen (1914-2002)

Karl Gustav Hansen was one of Denmark’s most distinguished silversmiths of the Scandinavian Modern period. He created modernist designs of superb quality that influenced the direction of modernist silver in Denmark and the rest of Scandinavia. Under his leadership, the Hans Hansen firm employed some of Denmark’s best known silversmiths, including Bent Knudsen, Allan Scharff and Bent Gabrielsen. Throughout his 60 year long career, he stayed with the traditional, hand driven way of creating hollowware, even though the industry turned to new automated techniques. He did not want to become a subordinate to the limitations of machines and always strived to grown and excel as an artisan.

Karl Gustav Hansen was son of the renowned silversmith Hans Hansen (1884-1940), who had established his silversmithy in the town of Kolding in 1920. Karl Gustav Hansen started as an apprentice in his father’s workshop in 1930, for Einar Olsen, who had been recruited from Georg Jensen the same year. His career began in an exciting time, when concrete forms had to make way for abstract ones with the emergence of functionalism. His hollowware was met with acclaim and proved commercially successful. During this early period he created the church silver for Nørre Bjert Kirke in Kolding. 

During Karl Gustav Hansen’s apprentice’s years, Hans Hansen launched the firm’s jewelry branch for the first time. Karl Gustav Hansen’s early jewelry designs broke new ground with their pure geometric forms, where strict lines were balanced with unexpected angles, turns and compositions with semi-precious stones. In 1932, Hans Hansen commissioned his son to create a new line of jewelry and Karl Gustav Hansen subsequently proposed more than 50 new designs. All were intended to be hand produced, although the father’s plan had been for the jewelry to be made by machine. The ”Future” series was born – a line of avantgarde, geometric and balanced designs that also launched Karl Gustav Hansen as a jewelry designer of major influence. 

Following his apprenticeship, Karl Gustav Hansen studied for Einar Utzon-Frank at Kunstakademiets Billedhuggerskole from 1935 to 1938. Simultaneously, he worked in the Hans Hansen workshop, which had then moved to Copenhagen. Hans Hansen died unexpectedly in 1940 and Karl Gustav had to take on the role as CEO and creative leader at an early age. It was a rough start in a difficult time of war and German occupation, but the company made it through. After the war, the business grew under Karl Gustav Hansen’s leadership. He also served as guest professor at the University of Indiana in 1959, while simultaneously opening more shops, some in collaboration with Anton Michelsen. 

In 1953, Bent Gabrielsen was recruited just out of Guldsmedehøjskolen (The Goldsmith’s College), where Karl Gustav Hansen was one of the examiners. He became lead designer for the jewelry line, and eventually executive manager, remaining at Hans Hansen until 1969. While Bent Gabrielsen was at the firm, Karl Gustav Hansen almost did not design any jewelry, but returned to this area after 1969. The jewelry from the late 1960s and 1970s is expressive, geometric and sculptural, as well as functionally excellently made and easy to wear. 

Through turbulent years and collaborations with sculptors such as Henry Moore and Lynn Chadwick in the 1970s, Karl Gustav Hansen remained as CEO and designer at Hans Hansen until 1987. Hans Hansen eventually merged with Georg Jensen in 1992.

Karl Gustav Hansen participated at the World Exhibitions in Brussels 1935, Paris in 1937, New York in 1939 and 1964, among other exhibitions. He is represented at Kunstindustrimuseum in Copenhagen, Nationalmuseum in Stockholm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Victoria & Albert Museum in London, among others. 

Literature: Karl Gustav Hansen. Sølv/Silber 1930–1994. Poul Dedenroth-Schou. © Museet på Koldinghus, Kolding, 1994