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John Foster

The Deep Roots of Modernism


The Modernist Movement was sparked by a desire by artists, architects and craftsmen to break free of the perceived bonds of “looking backwards” for cultural influences. Art historians have pointed to the British Arts & Crafts Movement, which began around 1880, as the beginning of this forward-looking push for fresh and unexplored creative thinking. It lasted well into the mid-twentieth century.

Pulling back the curtain to reveal one piece in the growth of the Modernist period, the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) began in 1903 by two men, Josef Hoffman and Koloman Moser, as an offshoot of Vienna’s “Secessionist” movement. For nearly 30 years the artisans of the Werkstätte designed and produced textile designs, glasswork, ceramics, metalwork, jewelry and furniture with the unifying mantra to bring a heightened sense of design to everyday objects. The earliest years saw designs that were highly influenced by some of the more formal qualities of Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). While numerous Werkstätte designers chose ornamental restraint, others pushed decorative ornamentation to excess.

Obsessed with quality and a high-level of craftsmanship, eventually the Wiener Werkstätte was unable to produce enough products to keep up with demand. Their work was expensive, and mass-production was never an option. This spelled their eventual demise, but left deep roots for the growth of modernism to come.


Deep Roots of Modernism
Emanuel Josef Margold (1888-1962). Biscuit Box, c. 1925; painted tin with lithographed design. Collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Deep Roots of Modernism
The Sitzmaschine Chair, (No. 670) by Josef Hoffmann, c. 1905, had a reclining back and pull-out footrest.

Deep Roots of Modernism
Commonly called the “Seven Ball Chair,” this sturdy chair (No. 371) by Josef Hoffman (1870–1956) was first exhibited at the Vienna Art Show in 1908.

Deep Roots of Modernism
A Wiener Werkstätte textile sample, c. 1910; Christies Auction, London; May 2000

Deep Roots of Modernism
Textile Sample, Designer Unknown, Wiener Werkstätte, ca. 1920

Deep Roots of Modernism
Textile sample; by Gustav Klimt  (Austrian, Baumgarten 1862–1918 Vienna)
Wiener Werkstätte, ca. 1920


Deep Roots of Modernism
Die Jungfrau, (The Virgins), Oil on Canvas; by Gustav Klimt (Austrian, Baumgarten 1862–1918 Vienna)

Deep Roots of Modernism
One in a series of three mosaics created by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt for a 1905-1911 commission for the Palais Stoclet in Brussells. Stoclet Fries — Lebensbaum (rechter Teil). These panels are composed of a variety of luxury materials, including marble, ceramic, gilded tiles and enamel along with pearls and other semi-precious stones.

Deep Roots of Modernism
Textile sample; by Gustav Klimt  (Austrian, Baumgarten 1862–1918 Vienna)
Wiener Werkstätte, c. 1920


Deep Roots of Modernism
Preliminary drawing for jewelry pendant; Irene (Reni) Schaschl-Schuster, c. 1932
Collection of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna


Deep Roots of Modernism
Pencil drawing by Josef Hoffman (1870–1956), c. 1908
Collection of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna


Deep Roots of Modernism
Josef Hoffman (1870–1956), Cigarette Case with elaborate ornamentation of gold, opals, lapis, turquoises, mother of pearl, agate and semi-precious stones, c. 1912

Deep Roots of Modernism
Ink Drawing by Mathilde Flögl, c. 1916

Deep Roots of Modernism
Textile Sample, Designer Unknown, Wiener Werkstätte, c. 1910–28

Deep Roots of Modernism
Print dress probably by Josef Hoffman (1870–1956), Wiener Werkstätte, c. 1920

Deep Roots of Modernism
Designer Unknown, Shoes by the Wiener Werkstätte, c. 1910

Deep Roots of Modernism
Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), Five pieces from the 'Flat Model' flatware service, consisting of crab fork, sardine server, pastry serving spoon, cheese knife, and butter knife, Vienna, ca. 1904–1908. Execution: Wiener Werkstätte. Silver

Deep Roots of Modernism
Postcard by Franz Zeymer, c. 1907

Deep Roots of Modernism
Postcard by Moriz Jung, c. 1907

Deep Roots of Modernism
Black and White Mocha Cup and Saucer by Josef Hoffman, c. 1910, Austria, Vienna, Designed c. 1910; made c.1920; Ellen Palevsky Cup Collection, LACMA

Posted in: Accidental Mysteries, Art, Design History

Comment 5  |     |     |   Like 64  |   Tweet 69
Comments [5]
This is different. I thought that the Arts & Crafts movement was heavily influenced by developing historical form as in William Morris and the extent that he was greatly influenced by Medieval manuscripts.
drtype
04.21.13
11:17

Always amazing to see this again - particularly the textiles and graphic art, but I get the feeling several of their Viennese contemporaries (particularly Loos) might have parted way with your assessment of how “modern” this work was.
Javier Zeller
04.22.13
06:31

@4/21 is correct about Morris' interest in the Medieval, both in aesthetic/motif as well as in traditions of handcraft and pride in the quality of one's production. Indeed, as minds of the times might have interpreted "looking forward" was the continued machination of the Industrial Revolution (and particularly the continued decline of working environments and expansion of child labor), "looking backward" was precisely what Morris, Ruskin and others intended with their Arts and Crafts guilds and philosophies.
trueenough
04.25.13
01:48

That said, the Wiener Werkstätte may give a nod to certain characteristics of the British Arts & Crafts, but at the same time leans away from its more excessive characteristics toward a more modernist approach. Plus it's just flipping gorgeous to look at.
trueenough
04.25.13
01:54

In the process of rejecting modern life and trying to restart the Mediaeval era, the arts and crafts movement started looking at and reviving simple, traditional forms (like the chairs of Phillip Clisset) that emphasised the integrity of the materials and the process of making. This idea of truth to materials was probably the most important principle of the movement and that, along with the slightly severe aesthetic that it produced, was what influenced Modernism.

So you're right, they were influenced by historical form and they indulged in some fairly ornate Gothic revival stuff, particularly at first, but by looking backwards they actually came up with something new.

It's worth remembering as well that one of the things they were rejecting about the mechanised modern world of the 19th century was factory working conditions. One of the main reasons for their interest in old fashioned crafts was the belief that factory work de-humanised the worker, whereas craftsmanship gave them dignity.

The paragraph above about them not wanting to look back is basically wrong as they were absolutely about looking back. But on the other hand they were also a socialist revolutionary movement who wanted to overthrow capitalism, which is quite a confusing combination.


Amyd
04.25.13
05:34



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