No matter what surface or medium Wiinblad chose for his creations, his style was instantly recognisable and truly inimitable – and his joie de vivre shone through in each and every product.
Danish artist, illustrator, and ceramicist Bjørn Wiinblad was born in Copenhagen on September 20, 1918.
At a very early age, he began to show signs of his talent for drawing and creating imaginative worlds. Aged 17, he began an apprenticeship as a typographer, but soon realised that his heart was set on following the path of an artist.
He studied graphic arts at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, graduating in 1943.
In 1946, Wiinblad joined Nymølle, a Danish pottery manufactory (which Wiinblad would eventually take ownership of in 1976). He opened his own design studio in 1952, and shortly after began designing for the German porcelain company Rosenthal. It is said that his work illustrating the ‘1001 Nights’ inspired him to draw a variety of ceramic objects such as vases and pots decorated with themes from the fairy tales. Wiinblad taught himself a variety of ceramic techniques, and from there he expanded his vigorous talent for creation and delight in art to encompass ‘all platforms’: tapestries, complete furnishing designs for hotels, etc. – not to mention grill tables, cutlery, porcelain and matching glassware, fabrics, posters and more.
Wiinblad was appointed Rosenthal’s chief designer in 1957, a position that allowed him to travel across Europe while achieving international recognition.
Instead of designing in a functionalist aesthetic like many of his midcentury contemporaries, Wiinblad espoused a delicate and romantic style that was dominated by a rich color palette and undulating lines, often drawing inspiration from fairy tales. His dedication to lyrical ceramic design can be seen in his iconic Magic Flute series (1959) for Rosenthal, a beautifully etched porcelain tableware collection created in homage to Mozart’s opera, Zauberflöte. Other notable designs for Rosenthal include Romance (1959), 1001 Nights Series (1969), and Quatre Couleurs Series (1960s).
Although best known today for his ceramics, Wiinblad worked across a variety of media. In 1947, he was commissioned by the United States Embassy in Paris to complete a series of posters. Later his posters illustrated Copenhagen's famous Tivoli Gardens and many other activities in Denmark, as well as the Olympic Games for the Handicapped at Seoul, the New World Symphony Orchestra academy in Miami, and the Royal Danish Ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House, all in 1988. His textile work was used for costumes for numerous ballets and stage presentations. He set costume design for the Royal Theater of Copenhagen; including designs for Lysistrata (1949), Undine (1962), and Han Christian Andersen’s The Swineherd (1969).
Wiinblad illustrated the work of his fellow Dane, Hans Christian Andersen, when he took on the task of providing the artwork for "The Swineherd," which won an award from the American Library Association. Wiinblad's "swineherd" illustrations were turned into a short animated film in 1986.
Characteristics of Wiinblad's work include whimsical round-faced people, dressed in vaguely 19th-century costume. They are often surrounded by natural elements: twining vines, floral wreaths, and fantastical trees. When Wiinblad employed color, he did so with great assurance. His colors are saturated and strong—sometimes almost psychedelic—and are often supplemented with metallic gold or silver.
His work has been shown widely in Europe, in the United States of America first in 1954 and in Japan, Australia and Canada in 1968. Wiinblad was named Man of the Year in New York in 1985 and was awarded the American-Scandinavian Foundation’s Cultural Prize of 1995.
Wiinblad’s work has been featured in many museum exhibitions and permanent collections around the world, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm.
Wiinblad passed away on June 8, 2006.