From the October/November 2023 Issue  

Modern & Classic

Writer Ren Miller

The No. 432 pitcher that Johan Rohde designed for the venerable Georg Jensen, once labeled too contemporary, becomes an icon of Danish design

The simplicity of Johan Rohde’s No. 432 water pitcher is at once classic and modern. This 9¼-inch-tall version of the pitcher was made in 1933. Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Cynthia Hazen Polsky Fund, 1989.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. That notable phrase — sometimes attributed to Leonardo da Vinci but more likely the paraphrase of a line from “Stuffed Shirts,” a 1931 book by writer, politician and one-time Union City, New Jersey, resident Clare Boothe Luce — has been applied in many ways to many people and products.

It seems particularly appropriate for the No. 432 sterling silver water pitcher designed by Johan Rohde (1856-1935), a Danish painter, product designer and a somewhat rebel with a cause. After first studying medicine, Rohde switched direction and entered the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1882 to study painting. He left a year later to protest what he saw as the school’s refusal to accept modern trends. He enrolled at the then-new Students’ School of Study in Copenhagen and also became the principal founder of The Free Exhibition, an association that, to this day, exhibits works selected by contemporary artists rather than those chosen by cultural authorities. Along the way he became an important painter and lithographer as well as a collector of works by other artists.

Rohde also ventured into applied arts with the design of furniture, in both classical and Japanese styles, and of high-quality silver products for the home. He commissioned some of the leading Danish workshops to execute his early designs, including Georg Jensen, the luxury silversmith based in Copenhagen. Jensen was so impressed that he, in turn, commissioned Rohde to create some designs for him — mostly cutlery and hollowware — eventually securing an exclusive lifelong contract with him. Among the most enduringly popular of Rohde’s designs for Jensen are the Acorn and Scroll flatware patterns, the Cosmos tea and coffee service, and the No. 432 water pitcher.

Designed in 1920, the pitcher owes its basic shape to the curves of Art Nouveau. However, the pitcher has none of Art Nouveau’s typical flowers and foliage in keeping with Rohde’s modernist leanings. It’s a study in pure form, flat at the bottom then curving out, back in and out again slightly as the handle flows into the angled top. The graceful arc from the base of the handle to the lip of the spout is both simple and dramatic, classic and modern. The only ornamentation is a row of tiny silver “pearls” at the base of the handle and, in some variations, a wood inset in the handle.

The design was considered too aggressively modern in 1920 so Jensen didn’t put it into production until 1925. That timing seemed to be right; the pitcher was immediately popular with customers, collectors and museums, where it is now part of many permanent collections and is considered an icon of Danish silver design.

The pitcher comes in 11½-inch and 9¼-inch heights in a high-polish finish that reflects everything around it, almost disappearing on a tabletop if not for the gracious silhouette. The pitcher remains available by commission from Georg Jensen. Or check with antiques dealers or websites such as and, where prices vary substantially based on size and condition, reaching around $6,000 for the 9¼-inch size to more than $12,000 for the 11½-inch size.

Interestingly, in 1934, one year before his death, Rohde received the Thorvaldsen Medal, the highest visual arts honor given by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, the very institution he had spurned a half century earlier, indicating all was forgiven on both sides.

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