White Doors perfectly reflects the interests and sensibilities of its distinguished owners, aesthetes from three generations of the same family. The painting was acquired directly from the artist by Axel Otto Henriques, presumably around 1900 shortly after Hammershøi had completed it. The son of a Copenhagen merchant family, Henriques trained as an engineer before travelling to Paris to be trained as a printer. On his return to Copenhagen he was a partner of the OC Olsen & Co. printing company from 1877 to 1914. All the while, however, he wrote as theatre and art critic for newspapers and magazines including Dags-Avisen, Morgenbladet, Politiken, Berlingske Tidende, and Illustreret Tidende, A talent for writing occasional songs eventually evolved into a professional life as a revue writer. Until 1905 he wrote politically engaged and satirical shows, first with John Buntzen and from 1889 with Anton Melbye, with whom he collaborated on the satirical review Blækspruttens (The Cuttlefish) from 1889 until 1934. He also translated and produced numerous French and German comedies and operettas, performed at theatres including the Casino, People's Theatre, Dagmar, and Nørrebro.
The painting was inherited by Henriques’ daughter Inger who, in 1915, married the architect Sven Risom. Having worked for a number of Copenhagen practices specialising in the restoration of historic buildings and churches, Risom opened his own architectural office in 1908. He spent 1911-1913 at the French School in Athens, during which time he participated in the excavation of ancient Greek artifacts and developed his taste for classical architecture that would inform his later work. Upon his return to Denmark, Risom assisted Thorvald Jørgensen in renovating the Royal reception rooms at the Christiansborg Palace. In addition to his work as a practicing architect, Risom served as an external examiner of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1917; was a member of the board of the Architects’ Association of Denmark; and from 1933, oversaw the inventories of the Danish royal residences, for which service he was appointed a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog.
White Doors was inherited by Sven and Inger’s son Jens, the renowned Danish American furniture designer, one of the first designers to introduce Scandinavian design in the United States and best known for his mass-produced 'Risom Chair', the armless, affordable chair blending sharp Scandinavian lines and American arts and crafts. Risom was trained as a designer at the Copenhagen School of Industrial Arts and Design (Kunsthåndværkerskolen), where he studied under Ole Wanscher and Kaare Klint. Fellow students included Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen. He went on to work as a furniture and interior designer for the architectural firm of Ernst Kuhn, later relocating to Stockholm, where he joined the design department of Nordiska Kompaniet where he was introduced to Alvar Aalto and Bruno Mathsson.
In 1939, Risom travelled to New York to study American design. He struggled to find work as a furniture designer, however, eventually securing freelance work for designer Dan Cooper. This led to his work being included in Collier’s magazine’s ‘House of Ideas’ designed by Edward Durell Stone and constructed outside Rockefeller Center during the 1939 New York World’s Fair. In 1941, Risom teamed up with entrepreneur Hans Knoll and in 1942, they launched the Hans Knoll Furniture Company, one of the world's most enduring quality furniture brands, with 15 of the 20 pieces in the inaugural ‘600’ line designed by Risom. These works included stools, armchairs and loungers, made from cedar and surplus webbing, works which have since become design classics. The Risom chair is still in production today and available through Knoll and Design Within Reach.
With the advent of the Second World War, Risom was drafted into the United States Army in 1943 and served under General Patton after the Allied invasion of Normandy. After completing his military service, he briefly returned to Knoll in New York, but soon decided to start his own firm, Jens Risom Design (JRD), which he launched on 1 May 1946. Risom's reputation as a furniture designer continued to grow, and he began to promote Scandinavian design in home furniture to the broader American public. In the 1950s, JRD ran a series of ads featuring photography by Richard Avedon and the slogan ‘The Answer is Risom’. The result of this success was that in 1954, JRD launched a major expansion of its production facilities. In the late 1950s, JRD shifted its focus away from home furnishings and towards office, hospital, and library furniture. One of Risom's executive office chairs became famous when President Lyndon B Johnson chose to use it in the Oval Office.
Risom sold JRD to Dictaphone in 1970, after having run the company for 25 years. He stayed on as CEO for three years, and then relocated from New York to New Canaan, Connecticut, and launched a consulting service, Design Control. Today, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum all have Risom selections in their permanent collections.
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