- The art exhibitions of the Austrian Secession had often featured new directions in handicraft design and production; the show of 1897 announced as its program a global aesthetic renewal of all things created and developed by man. No object was too humble for it to be well made and attractive, quite unlike the mediocre design and workmanship found in the mass-produced furniture and household utensils most people could afford. Modest means should be no reason for absence of beauty in any human life. These ideas had already been circulating in Europe, in England with William Morris and John Ruskin, and particularly in the circle of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow. Mackintosh’s contrasting patterns of black and white, the still elegance of his interiors, and his rectangular ornamental inlays, on view at the Secession exhibition of 1900, were especially influential among his Austrian counterparts. Under the leadership of the architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and the artist and designer Koloman Moser (1868–1918), the Wiener Werkstätte Corporation opened its first atelier in 1903. The studio was also a training place for others who could continue the program. A bright, well-lit, and quiet atmosphere was provided to encourage careful and pleasing work. Artists and craftspeople combined forces to produce tableware, furniture, and textiles that were both useful and beautiful. The shape of their products followed simple geometric forms: spheres, rectangles, cylinders, and cubes. Decorative interest was added through the use of high-quality materials, which were then finished, often by intensive polishing alone, to highlight their natural beauty.In their classic simplicity and use of the very best woods, metals, and stones, the Werkstätte artists had much in common with the best of their earlier Biedermeier counterparts. For a time, their work enjoyed worldwide sale in franchises, even after World War I. Their commissions came not only from the lands of the erstwhile Habsburg Empire, but from New York (1922) and Berlin (1929). The most grandiose of the Werkstätte’s designs, the Palais Stoclet (1905–1911), planned by Hoffmann, was a Brussels villa for a Baron Stoclet, whose resources were apparently limitless. Though the household goods of the Wiener Werkstätte were allegedly functional, many were obviously not. Only the well to do had the discretionary income to afford them, so the studio’s hope that its handiwork would touch the lives of the most humble was at best partially fulfilled. In 1932, the Wiener Werkstätte closed its doors, a victim to changing tastes and, ultimately, bankruptcy.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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