Based on the professor chair designed forSt. Catherine’s College
The Oxford chair from 1965 is a further development of the elegant high-backed chair that Arne Jacobsen designed for the dinning hall at St. Catherine’s College.
The design of the Oxford chair from 1965 builds on a chair Arne Jacobsen designed for St. Catherine’s College (1964) in Oxford in the early 1960s. The year after the opening of the university college, this classic office chair was presented by Fritz Hansen at the furniture fair in Fredericia.
For the prestigious St. Catherine’s College, Arne Jacobsen designed an elegant, high-backed chair with a seat and back made in a single plywood shell shaped to match the curvature of the human back. The chair has been dubbed the Professor chair, because it was used at the high table in the dining hall, reserved for the fellows of the college. The high back defined a space around the table and helped to highlight the fellows’ authority in relation to the students and other staff, who sat at tables with benches. The Oxford chair, which was launched by furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen in 1965, is a further development of this chair, made in different materials but exuding the same air of authority.
The Oxford series is based on the shell from the Professor chair, which is padded and supported by an aluminium swivel base. Unlike the Ant and the other shell chairs, the curvature of this shell is bent in just one direction and also does not have the characteristic narrow waist. The curvature of the shell, which follows the shape of the human body, is clearly seen in the profile silhouette but not in a frontal view.
For St. Catherine’s College, Arne Jacobsen developed a tall model without armrests and a low model with armrests. These two designs are the basis of the Oxford series, which has been available since 1965 in the desired forms. The Oxford chair was fitted with a thin foam padding that preserved the slender, majestic look of the design and provided added comfort. The simple and classic design has remained in production at Fritz Hansen ever since the launch in 1965, both under the name ‘Oxford Classic’, with the traditional leather upholstery, and as the Oxford Premium series, where the back is modified with horizontal stitching.
It caused quite a stir when the committee behind the construction of the new St. Catherine’s College at the time-honoured Oxford University picked an architect who was not only not British but also a known modernist. Arne Jacobsen approached the task with a deep sense of respect and continued several of the architectural and social conventions that characterize the historical colleges while also designing a modern university complex. The design of the Professor chair for the dining hall also served this purpose. In his design of the dining hall, Arne Jacobsen had students and fellows dine together, as prescribed by tradition, but used the high-backed chair, which was further elevated on a slightly raised plateau, to indicate the fellows’ authority in relation to the students and other staff, who were seated at table-and-bench sets. This air of authority and prestige is maintained as the essence of the stylish Oxford series.
Sources: Arne Jacobsen Design Archives. / Arne Jacobsen’s scrapbooks. The Royal Library – Danish Art Library. / Stenum Poulsen, K., Skaarup Larsen, A., & Staunsager, S. (2020). Arne Jacobsen – Designing Denmark. Kolding: Trapholt. / Thau, C., & Vindum, K. (1998). Arne Jacobsen. Copenhagen: Danish Architectural Press.