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Designed by Alvar Aalto, Finnish, 1898 - 1976. Made by Oy Huonekalu-ja Rakennustyötehdas AB, Turku, Finland, 1910 - present.

Made in Finland, Europe

c. 1931-1932

Birch-faced plywood, laminated birch frame, leather straps

37 1/2 x 23 3/4 x 40 inches (95.3 x 60.3 x 101.6 cm) Height (of seat): 15 3/4 inches (40 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Decorative Arts and Sculpture

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Purchased with funds contributed by Collab: The Group for Modern and Contemporary Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, in honor of Cynthia W. Drayton, and with the Fiske Kimball Fund, 1985

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Additional information:
  • PublicationDesign, 1900-1940

    This high-back armchair, one of only several examples known is a variant of the "standard" chair number 31 (see Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1985-67-2) that Alvar Aalto designed for the Paimio Sanatorium between 1930 and 1933 and that has remained in almost continuous production ever since. Built as a free cantilever, it has a seat and back formed from one long, curving panel of springy, molded plywood suspended between two U-shaped loops of thicker, laminated strips. The idea of the cantilever seat in an open frame came to Aalto through the chair designs of the Bauhaus architects Marcel Beuer and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, but in its translation from tubular steel to bent wood, Aalto's chair was wholly innovative in its form and in the technology required to produce it. It was also equally rational but more "human," as Aalto noted in 1940: "Tubular and chromium surfaces are good solutions technically, but psychophysically these materials are not good for the human being. The sanatorium needed furniture that should be light, flexible, easy to clean, and so on. After extensive experimentation in wood, the flexible system was discovered and a method and material combined to produce furniture that was better for the human touch and more suitable as the general material for the long and painful life in a sanatorium."

    The Paimio furniture brought Aalto international recognition when it was exhibited at the Triennale in Milan and at the Fortnum and Mason department store in London, both in 1933. The public demand for it was so extensive that an English company, Finmar, was founded to import Aalto furniture, and a Finnish company, Artek, was established by Aalto and others in 1935 to produce and market the designs, as it continues to do even to this day. Kathryn B. Hiesinger and George H. Marcus, from Guides to European Decorative Arts: Design, 1900-1940 (1987), p. 36.
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    One of the giants of twentieth-century architecture and design, Alvar Aalto created a new vocabulary of furniture forms as well as the technology necessary to produce it. Dedicated to creating high-quality household products at reasonable cost by industrial methods, Aalto used Finnish birch plywood and laminated wood to make his furniture because these materials were local, inexpensive, comfortable, and, he said, more "human" than the tubular steel being introduced in furniture elsewhere in Europe during the 1930s. Aalto tried to make wood elastic, creating for this armchair a resilient seat and back formed from one long, elegantly curving panel of springy molded plywood, suspended in a bent, laminated-wood frame. One of only a few made-to-order high-back variants of Aalto's commercially manufactured "standard" chair, this version is only slightly more elaborate than the mass-produced model, which reflects his social commitment to mass production. Katherine B. Hiesinger, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 156.