The biography of Poul Henningsen by Bianca Killmann for TAGWERC

Biography of Poul Henningsen

Poul Henningsen sees the light of day in the Danish town of Ordrup on September 9, 1894. As the illegitimate son of Agnes Henningsen and the writer Carl Ewald Poul Henningsen has three older half-siblings, the children of his mother with her ex-husband Mads Henningsen. Agnes Henningsen is a single parent and initially works as a hairdresser, before she is more and more engaged as a writer with the themes of love and sexuality and lives privately free-living. Poul Henningsens grows freely between the changing acquaintances of his mother in the intellectual scene of Denmark at the beginning of the 20th century.

Education and first drafts

At the age of 18, Poul Henningsen enrolls at the Frederiksberg Technical School in 1911 and leaves again in 1914 to study at the Technical College in Copenhagen for three years. Also here, Henningsen breaks off without graduation in 1917 and works as a painter and inventor in his own design office, which he – unimpressed by a non- existent university degree – founded in 1919. Here Poul Henningsen is already experimenting with artificial light, its scattering, reflection and effect. In the same year, Henningsen marries Else Strøyberg, who remains his wife until 1942.

Exhibition and award

As part of the Paris exhibition “Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs”, which opens on April 28th, 1925 and lasts until October, Henningsens PH Lamp, a precursor of his later lighting designs, awarded a gold medal. Arne Jacobsen also appears at this exhibition for the first time. In the production of his first PH Lamp Henningsen works together with the Danish company Louis Poulsen. His luminaire design is already being used one year after the award in the public space Forum Copenhagen .

Flight and freedom

In the following years, a whole PH luminaire family, consisting of ceiling, table and wall luminaire, for which Louis Poulsen takes over worldwide sales and which Louis Poulsen has also been producing since 1941, is created. For the Copenhagen amusement park, Henningsen designs a lighting that can be darkened and thus can not be seen by aircraft. In this way, the park can remain open until midnight. During the World War II occupation, Poul Henningsen receives death threats and escapes by boat in a night and fog operation to Sweden. Here, in Stockholm, he temporarily lives like many Danish artists.

The era Inger

Since the late 1930s, Inger Andersen has been assisting Poul Henningsen as a secretary. They complement each other perfectly and finally Andersen and Henningsen marry in 1943. Inger takes her husband’s surname and brings two daughters into the marriage. One of them, Tove, became the wife of later designer Verner Panton in 1950. Inger is the rock on Henningsen’s side. She supports his work, shielding it – if necessary – when anonymous callers try to threaten it. In the 1950s, some of Poul Henningsen’s most important lighting designs are created, all of which were produced by Louis Poulsen.

International acceptance

The initials of the designer give their name for the PH lighting collection by Louis Poulsen. The family of lights, consisting of PH Artichoke or PH Zapfen, PH Snowball, PH Charlottenborg and a series of wall, table and ceiling lights, which all begin with the initials and then added to numbers. The acceptance of the artistic work of Poul Henningsen in the design scene is expressed by the fact that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe uses the PH Lamp in his private house, the Vila Tugendhat, in the Czech city of Brno.

Equal rights and the not-for-profit idea

In addition to the achievements in lighting design Poul Henningsen engaged socially. Practices social criticism, denounces abuses, vehemently campaigns – like his mother – for the social equality of women. Only four years after his mother Agnes, Poul Henningsen dies at the age of 72 on January 31st, 1967 in Hillerød, Denmark, north of Copenhagen. His wife Inger is on Henningsen’s side until death, having already lost much of his weight in the years before Parkinson’s disease paralyzes him. In addition to his death, Inger and Louis Poulsen keep alive the memory of Poul Henningsen’s life and work with an end-of-life foundation to promote the not-for-profit ideas Poul Henningsen fought for.

All-rounder Poul Henningsen

Poul Henningsen worked as a cabaret artist, designer, mainly lighting designer, writer, critic, architect without a degree, but above all, Poul Henningsen was one of the most dazzling people in public life in Denmark in the 20th century.

Poul Henningsen lights collection

TAGWERC presents the luminaire life’s work of the legendary Dane, the Poul Henningsen Kollektion.

Author of the biography: Bianca KILLMANN
The biography is protected by copyright.

Poul Henningsen Design, manufactured by Louis Poulsen.

Pendant light PH Louvre

Pendant light PH 5

Pendant light PH 5 MINI

Pendant light PH 5-4½

Pendant light PH 6½-6

Pendant light PH Snowball