Verner Panton was born on February 13, 1926 to innkeeper parents in Brahesborg-Gamtofte, a village on the island of Fünen in Denmark. In 1944, Panton won a place at the technical college in Odense, the largest town on the island. After completing his studies in Odense, Panton moved to Copenhagen in 1947 and studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Art (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) and graduated in 1951.
Panton had close links with some of the most important Danish designers of the era. Panton was taught by Pøul Henningsen at the Academy, who introduced him to product design. Best known for his bold, abstract lighting, Henningsen’s industrial aesthetic appealed to Panton. In 1950, Panton married Henningsen’s step-daughter, Tove Kemp, but they soon split up. Panton assisted Arne Jacobsen from 1950 to 1952 on various projects including the Ant chair.
In 1955, Fritz Hansen launched Panton’s first mass-produced pieces of furniture, the Tivoli Chair and Bachelor Chair. It was not until the introduction of the Cone chair in 1959 that Panton established his stylistic reputation. In 1960, Panton developed the first inflatable furniture, made from transparent plastic film. After a short stint in Cannes, in 1963, Panton moved to Basel with his future wife Marianne Person-Oertenheim. Read an interesting interview with her here. In Basel, he began a long collaboration with Vitra, the European licensee of American furniture maker Herman Miller.
While Panton continued to win awards throughout the 1970s, his pop sensibilities were eclipsed by Vietnam and other sobering events like the 1980s. In 1994 IKEA produced the Vilbert Chair. Panton was invited to design an exhibition, Verner Panton: Light and Color, at the Trapholt Museum in Kolding, Denmark. The exhibition opened as planned but Verner Panton died in Copenhagen 12 days prior, on September 5, 1998.
Verner Panton. Image source.
The cantilevered S chair in 1955 was made of lacquered plywood and would eventually become the Panton chair when technology caught up to vision. There were two models of the S chair, the 275 and the 276.
Image source. S chair (model 275) with original white lacquer coating, designed in 1956 by Verner Panton and manufactured from 1965 by Thonet. Bended laminated wood, inspired by the Zig-Zag chair by Rietveld. Dimensions: Height 83 cm (32.68 inches), width 40 cm (15.75 inches), depth 54 cm (21.26 inches).
Image source. Before you think you’re going to run right out and pick up a set for your dining room table. Sold 09/25/2008. Estimated value: £ 5,000 - 7,000, Hammer price: £ 10,000 ($16,000).
Panton spent considerable time thinking about how to produce a plastic chair molded in a single piece. He seems to have been experimenting with the idea of a cantilever chair made out of a single section of material as early as 1956. Sketches from 1958-59 clearly prefigure the Panton chair. A short time later Panton had a full scale model of his chair concept made from polystyrene which was not suitable for sitting on but would help him find a manufacturer. Today this model, which is often incorrectly described as a prototype, is part of the collection of the Vitra Design Museum and shows significant differences to what would eventually become the Panton chair.
Image source. Development of the Panton Chair at Vitra, ca. 1966, Manfred Diebold (head of development), Rolf Fehlbaum and Verner Panton.
Willi Fehlbaum, the founder of Vitra, indicated his readiness to develop the chair to the series production stage. It was not until the years between 1965 and 1967 that the development work on the chair was driven forward intensively. In August, 1967, the Panton Chair was presented to the public for the first time. It was the first cantilevered chair made from a single piece of plastic. Since then the chair has been produced in four different versions from four different types of plastic and with the aid of different types of production technology. There were both financial and aesthetic reasons for the change in materials. All versions were developed in close cooperation between the manufacturer and Verner Panton.
Image source. Panton chair in the original catalog. “There are four legged, three legged, one legged chairs. Verner Panton designed one with no legs. Why? Because it's made of plastic. The properties and features of this material are used fully and the result is a highly unusual chair. Please take a seat.”
In Basel, Marianne Panton and some close to her administer an online archive of Verner Panton’s work. Marianne Panton tried from the very beginning to collect everything that appeared. Verner on the other hand always tended to put finished work behind him, because for him it belonged to the past. It was no longer of any interest, and he was already thinking about the next project. Click Panton’s signature below to be taken to this extensive resource.
The production history of the Panton Chair is as follows:
Initial series production from cold-molded, fiberglass reinforced polyester resin, painted in various colors. Manufacturer: Herman Miller/Vitra.
Second series model made of polyurethane rigid foam, painted in various colors. Manufacturer: Herman Miller/Vitra.
Third series model made of colored thermoplastic polystyrene (Luran S). The chairs made of this material can be identified by the ridges below the bend between the seating area and the base.
Manufacturer: Vitra; in the USA until 1975 Herman Miller.
The Panton Chair was not in production from 1979 to 1983.
Second version of the chair made of painted polyurethane rigid foam. This series can be identified by Panton's signature on the base. Manufacturer: 1983-1990 Horn on behalf of the WK Group; since 1990 Vitra; since 1999 this model has been marketed under the name Panton Chair Classic.
Fourth series model made of coloured polypropylene. Manufacturer: Vitra.
Schematic of the Panton chair. Image source: Vitra.
Panton Junior made of colored polypropylene (a smaller version of the Panton Chair made to scale for children from the age of three). Manufacturer: Vitra.
The original intention of the Vitra Design Museum to give visitors access to design not only by means of publications, but also in the form of three-dimensional objects, resulted in the creation of a unique museum product: models of the most important pieces of furniture in design history on a reduced scale. The Miniatures of the Vitra Design Museum are exemplary teaching objects with regard to quality and craftsmanship, and also iconic manifestations of the Museum Collection.
They not only fulfill the financial purpose of contributing to the Museum's budget, but also serve as ideal demonstration pieces within the context of academic studies or skilled trades. Among design connoisseurs, the Miniatures of the Vitra Design Museum have become coveted collector's items. At present, the Miniatures Collection encompasses almost 100 different models, which are sold in exclusive design shops all over the world.
Vitra Design Museum miniatures. Great for dollhouses. 1:6 scale. Image source: eBay.
Bibliography (Verner Panton)
Alexander von Vegesack and Mathias Remmele, Verner Panton: The Collected Works, Vitra Design Museum, 2000.
Verner Panton, Verner Panton: Liset og Farven (Light and Color), Kolding, 1998.
Verner Panton, Lidt om Farver (Notes on Color), Copenhagen, 1997.
Svend Erik Møller, Verner Panton, Copenhagen,1986.
Bibliography (S chair)
Niels-Jørgen Kaiser, Verner Panton, Basel, 1986, n.p.
Alexander von Vegesack and Mathias Remmele, eds., Verner Panton: The Collected Works, Weil am Rhein, 2000, pp. 77 and 249
Design Dictionary (2009). Verner Panton. Retrieved December 19, 2009, from http://www.designdictionary.co.uk/en/panton.htm
Panton, M., et al. (2009). Panton-Chair. Retrieved December 19, 2009, from http://www.verner-panton.com/furniture/archive/7/
Vitra Design Museum (2009). Miniatures. Retrieved December 19, 2009, from http://shop.design-museum.com/design/miniaturen/index.php