Michael Thonet trained as a cabinet-maker and set up a workshop in his home town as soon as he finished his apprenticeship. In the 1830's he began to experiment with steaming laminated wood veneers in order to create bentwood furniture.
At first, he was only able to use this process to produce component parts, such as chair backs, which he incorporated into pieces constructed from more orthodox, straight, wooden elements. Still, his work was innovative, and Thonet's exhibit at an 1841 Koblenz trade show attracted the attention of Chancellor Metternich, who invited him to Austria to make furniture for the Palais Liechtenstein.
By 1842, Thonet had perfected his steam-bending process, and in July of that year he was granted an international patent that protected his "chemical mechanical methods" from imitation. The extravagant curlicues of the bentwood furniture he produced for the interiors of the grand Rococo staterooms at the Palais Liechtenstein are testament to the versatility of his invention.
Once softened through immersion in steam or boiling water, the wood (beech was particularly suitable) could be moulded into almost any shape with the aid of a press. A single piece of timber could be manipulated to form the back legs, uprights, and top rail of a chair. Thonet's process meant that furniture could be constructed from far fewer members and did away with the need for dovetails, tenons, or any kind of joint; simple screws and nuts would suffice to hold the parts together.
In 1853, Thonet set up his own furniture company - Gebrüder Thonet - with his five sons (Franz, Michael, August, Josef, and Jacob), and designed a factory in Vienna to produce furniture that could be packed flat for shipping and assembled at its destination. Before long, Thonet's bentwood furniture was being exported all over the world.
Gebrüder Thonet was established in 1853. The runaway success of the company's bentwood fumiture led to rapid growth, and within 20 years it had offices in London and New York. Expansion within continental Europe continued apace and, by the end of the 19th century, Gebrüder Thonet was operating more than 50 factories. Collaborations with eminent designers and architects, such as Josef Hoffmann, Otto Prutscher, and Emile Guyot, kept the firm at the forefront of new trends. In 1922, Gebrüder Thonet became part of the Thonet-Mindus holding company, employing 10,000 staff under the direction of Leopold Pilzer, who established Thonet Industries Inc. in New York. Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, a steady focus on innovation and contemporary design has sustained the company's identity, and Thonet remains a world leader in industrial furniture design.
The Bending Process Steamed until pliable, the solid wood is bent into shape. The men have to work in perfect unison with each other as they manipulate the wood, opening and closing a series of clamps to keep control.
Two principle institutions dominated the visual arts in the years prior to the secession : The Akademie de bildende Kunste (Academy of fine arts) and The Künstlerhaus Genossenschaft (Arthouse Cooperative) – a private exhibiting society founded in 1861.
In November 1896, the arch-conservative Eugeen Felix was re-elected as president of the Künstlerhaus and members of the organization, many of whom had been excluded from exhibitions in the past, took the opportunity to voice their opposition. Led by Gustav Klimt, they formed a new society based on the models of the Berlin and Munich Secession founded by Franz von Stuck in 1892.
On April 3, 1897, a letter was sent to the Künstlerhaus announcing the group with Gustav Klimt as President. Of a total of 40 members on the list, 23 were members of the Künslerhaus, including Klimt, Joseph Olbrich and Koloman Moser. More resignations followed over the course of the next two years, including Josef Hoffmann and Max Kurzweil, ending with Otto Wagner on October 11, 1899.
From the onset, the Vienna Secession brought together Naturalists, Modernists, Impressionists and cross-pollinated among all disciplines forming a total work of art--a Gesamtkunstwerk. In this respect, the Secession drew inspiration from William Morris and the English Arts and Crafts movement which sought to re-unite fine and applied arts. The dominant form was the square and the recurring motifs were the grid and checkerboard. The influence came not so much from French and Belgian Art Nouveau, but from the Arts and Crafts movement. In particular, the work of William Ashbee and Charles Renee Mackintosh.
In 1903, with an eye towards countering the ossified Historicist style with a new beginning, the architect Josef Hoffmann, the graphic designer and painter Koloman Moser and the modern-minded patron Fritz Waerndorfer decided to establish the now world-famous Vereinigung für Kunsthandwerk [Arts and Crafts Association] Wiener Werkstätte (1903¬–1932).
This “productive cooperative of artisans” was to produce high-quality craftwork to fulfill all manner of everyday needs (with products including furniture, works of architecture, porcelain, glass and apparel), in close contact between artists and consumers. With its pioneering designs and the interdisciplinary goal of holistically penetrating all areas of life, the Wiener Werkstätte left a lasting mark on the history of design. Even today, its output continues to be a significant influence with respect to issues of aesthetics. Their promotional pamphlet from 1905 outlined the program:
“The limitless harm done in the arts and crafts field by low quality mass production on the one hand and by the unthinking imitation of old styles on the other is affecting the whole world like some gigantic flood. It would be madness to swim against this tide. Neverthless we have founded our workshop. Where appropriate we shall try to be decorative without compulsion and not at any price”.
From the onset, the Wiener Werkstätte encouraged its patrons to look beyond the material value of objects and to embrace geometric symmetry over surface ornament. We need only to look at Moser’s logo design above and the flower motif based on the golden section to see how much these architectural principles dictated the company’s early designs.
Up and until the 1920s, the company opened up sales affiliates at the top addresses in Vienna and abroad. Nevertheless its failure loomed ahead. It was especially for the high prices of their products that the Wiener Werkstätte failed to accomplish its social cause-- namely to ensure that the life of everybody was embellished by everyday objects designed by artists. Until its final closure in 1932, the company always relied on the support of prosperous patrons.
Otto Wagner (1841-1918), who had an established architectural career working in a conventional revivalist style, moved toward a new direction with the publication of his book Modeme Architektur (1895), calling for the abandonment of historical revivalism in favor of design based on "purpose."
His major civic projects of the 1890s included parts of a Danube canal system incorporating locks, bridges, and dams, as well as viaducts, buildings, and architectural elements for the Stadtbahn, an urban rail transport network. Entrance kiosks such as the twin structures at the Karlsplatz station in Vienna (1898) used a metal cage structure, externally visible, to hold wall panels of marble and glass. The gilded decorative detail reflects the Art Nouveau related ornamentalism of the Seeession style. Interior detail in white, green, and gold ornamented the lobby.
Wagner's !arge church of S. Leopold Am Steinhof ( 1905-7), Vienna, has a tall dome of iron construction supporting a copper exterior. Inside the church, a broad crossing formed by the cruciform plan is topped by a low internal dome lined with a light, suspended ceiling of square, white panels held by thin metal strips painted gold. The liturgical fittings, the altar with baldachino, the pulpit and confessionals, the hanging light fixtures, the pictorial mosaics above the altar, and the stained-glass windows are all examples of the geometrically based decorative vocabulary of the Seeession movement.
The best known of Wagner's projects is the !arge headquarters for the Austrian Post Office Savings Bank (1904-6). The exterior of the building is sheathed in panels of stone held by bolts with heads exposed as decorative detail. Interior lobbies, stairs, and corridors are enriched with Secessionist detail in meta! and stained glass. The central main banking room has a high central area with lower side spaces on either side (a "nave and aisles" in strictly modern terms) all roofed in metal and glass; support columns are steel with exposed rivet heads. The metal is all white; the floor of structural glass gives light to the space below. Electric light fixtures and tubular ventilator outlets are functional elements that also serve a decorative role. Simple wooden counters, check writing desks, and stools are all in Wagner's increasingly simple design. Although a work of the Vienna Seeession, this room can be viewed as the first truly modern interior. lt brings modern concepts first visible in the Crystal Palace into use in an interior that is totally practical and aesthetically successful through form and structure, without dependence on any applied decorative ornament.
Born in 1841 in the Viennese suburb of Penzing, Wagner became professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna at the age of 53. His style of architectural design also found itself in the way he taught his students: a radical opposition to the prevailing currents of historicist architecture. Otto Wagner warned of venerating the old, and his projects speak for themselves.
The list of Fischer's students and younger employees reads like a panel of honor in modern architecture: Dominikus Böhm, Martin Elsaesser, Alfred Fischer, Hugo Häring, Ernst May, Erich Mendelsohn, Jacobus John Pieter Oud, Wilhelm Riphahn, Bruno Taut and many others.
In 1897 Otto Wagner joined the Vienna Secession Group of Artists, founded by Gustav Klimt among others.
Otto Wagner died in 1918, at the age of 77, leaving indelible marks on the city of Vienna.
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian Symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau (Vienna Secession) movement. His major works include paintings, murals, sketches, and other art objects, many of which are on display in the Vienna Secession gallery. Klimt's primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism--nowhere is this more apparent than in his numerous drawings in pencil (see Mulher sentada, below).
Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, the second of seven children, three boys and four girls. All three sons displayed artistic talent early on. His father, Ernst Klimt, formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. Ernst married Anna Klimt (nee Finster), whose unrealized ambition was to be a musical performer. Klimt lived in poverty for most of his childhood, as work was scarce and the economy difficult for immigrants.
Though the Secessionists were known as a group that attempted to break with artistic traditions, their relationship with the past was more complex than a simple forward-looking mentality.
Klimt, along with many of his fellow painters and graphic artists, cultivated a keen understanding of the symbolic nature of mythical and allegorical figures and narratives from Greece and Rome and other ancient civilizations.
With Pallas Athena , 1898 and her soft colors and uncertain boundaries between elements, Klimt begins the dissolution of the figural to abstraction that would come to full force in the years after he left the Secession.
In 1902, Klimt painted the Beethoven Frieze for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of Ludwig van Beethoven|the composer and featured a monumental polychrome sculpture by Max Klinger. Meant for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. After the exhibition the painting was preserved, although it did not go on display again until 1986. The Beethoven Frieze is now on permanent display in the Vienna Secession hall (Austria)|Secession Building.
The Stoclet Frieze is a series of three mosaics created by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt for a 1905-1911 commission for the Palais Stoclet in Brussells. The panels depict swirling Tree of life|Trees of life, a standing female figure and an embracing couple. The mosaics are spread across three walls of the Palais' dining room, with the two larger, figural sections set opposite each other on the longer walls of the room. A smaller, geometric panel occupies the short wall separating them. The designs are formed from a variety of luxury materials, including marble, ceramic, gilded tiles and enamel along with pearls and other semi-precious stones.Freytag 2010, 365.
Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (also called The Lady in Gold or The Woman in Gold) was completed between 1903 and 1907. The portrait was commissioned by the sitter's husband, Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer (de), a Jewish banker and sugar producer. The painting was stolen by the Nazis in 1941 and displayed at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. In 2006, following eight years of effort by the Bloch-Bauer heirs, the painting was returned to the family; it was sold the same year for $135 million, at the time a record price for a painting.
Koloman (Kolo) Moser was born in March 1868 in Vienna to Josef and Theresia Moser. His father was a school caretaker. After completing primary school, Moser studied drawing at the trade school in Wieden. Moser was accepted at Vienna’s Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) in 1885. His parents supported his desire to study art.
After the unexpected death of his father in 1888, Moser earned money by illustrating books and magazines, including fashion and humor publications. He remained at the Akademie until 1892, and then continued his studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts). Moser was a member along with Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Max Kurzweil and others, of the Siebener-Club (Club of Seven), a group that was the forerunner of the Vienna Secession.
In 1897, Moser was a founding member of the Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs (Vienna Secession). He was actively involved with the group’s journal, Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), which remained in publication until 1903.
In 1900, Moser was named a full professor at the Kunstgewerbeschule, where he taught decorative drawing and painting until his death.
In May 1903, Moser, Hoffmann, and Fritz Waerndorfer founded the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops). Moser not only designed objects but also collaborated with Hoffmann on domestic and commercial interior design projects. In addition to his work for the Wiener Werkstätte, Moser was a prolific designer and created work for various firms including: Johann Backhausen & Söhne (textiles), Prag-Rudniker (furniture), Jacob & Josef Kohn (furniture), E. Bakalowits Söhne (glass), and Josef Böck (porcelain). His inventiveness as a designer earned him the nickname “Tausendkünstler” (thousand-artist).
In 1905, he was one of the members of the so-called Klimt Group that left the Secession. This same year, he married Editha Mautner-Markhof, of a wealthy industrial family.
In 1906, the Wiener Werkstätte suffered financial hardship and his wife was approached for a loan and Moser resigned from the firm in 1907 due to a difference of opinion over how it should be managed. He began to devote his energies to painting and theatre design. Moser also created a series of stamps and banknotes.
In 1911, the first exhibition of his painting was held at the Galerie Miethke in Vienna. He was diagnosed with incurable cancer of the larynx in 1916 and died in October 1918.
Josef Franz Maria Hoffmann was born December 15, 1870 in the Moravian (today part of Czech Republic) village of Pirnitz (Brtnice), to Josef Franz Karl Hoffmann and Leopoldine Tuppy. His father was the town mayor and as a successful businessman, he built a sizable fortune through the local cotton industry. His family’s interest in the Biedermeier style would influence his development as an architect and designer. At the age of nine, he transferred to the local gymnasium where Adolf Loos was also a student. Hoffmann and Loos would continue to interact throughout both their academic and professional careers.
In 1887 he enrolled in the Architecture Department at Brünn’s Höhere Staatsgewerbeschule (Senior State Commercial and Technical School). Loos was also enrolled at the school at the same time. In 1891, Hoffmann passed his final exam.
In 1892 Hoffmann was accepted into Vienna’s Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) and moved to Vienna, where he remained for the rest of his life. Along with Koloman Moser and others, Hoffmann was a founding member of the Siebner Club in 1895 (Club of Seven). The members discussed current trends in architecture and art.
In 1897, Hoffmann became one of the founding members of the Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs (Vienna Secession). He was an instrumental figure within the group. He contributed to its publication Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), and frequently designed exhibitions for the Secession
In 1899, Hoffmann was appointed a professor at Vienna’s Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts), a position he held until his retirement in 1936. He taught in the departments of architecture, metalwork, enameling, and applied art.
For the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900, Hoffmann designed the rooms for the Kunstgewerbeschule and the Secession. This same year, he visited England. He met the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh and also visited the workshops of the C. R. Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft. This direct contact with leading proponents of the arts and crafts movement would influence him when the Wiener Werkstätte was established three years later.
The Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) was founded in May 1903. Hoffmann and Moser served as co-artistic directors and the textile industrialist Fritz Wärndorfer provided financial support. The Wiener Werkstätte was established as a collaborative association between the public, designers, and craftsmen. Hoffmann and Moser placed an emphasis on quality and focused on goods for the home. Their goal was two-pronged: to elevate the role of the craftsman, and to give full worth to artistic inspiration. They wanted the decorative arts to be given the same value as the fine arts.
Built in 1904, the Purkersdorf Sanatorium was one of Hoffmann’s important architectural projects. The commission came through art critic Berta Zuckerkandl, who he met through the Secession. She recommended him to her brother-in-law Viktor Zuckerkandl who wanted a modern design.
In 1905, Hoffmann was one of the group around Klimt that left the Vienna Secession. Also in 1905 he received the commission to design the Palais Stoclet in Brussels which was completed in 1911. Hoffmann was responsible for all exterior structures and the interiors were designed with a collaborative team that included Gustav Klimt, George Minne, Carl Otto Czeschka, Michael Powolny, Leopold Forstner, and Franz Metzner. The furnishings were made by the Wiener Werkstätte.
In 1912, Hoffmann met banker and industrialist Otto Primavesi who commissioned Hoffmann to build a country home for him in Winkelsdorf, Czechoslovakia. The house was completed in 1914. This contact proved vital when the first financier of the Wiener Werkstätte, Wärndorfer, went bankrupt in 1914. Otto and his wife Mäda Primavesi took financial control of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1915. The Primavesis remained the chief financial supporters of the firm until 1930 (Otto died in 1926). Hoffmann was the director until the firm went bankrupt in 1932.
Throughout his career, Hoffmann was actively involved in exhibition design with the Secession, museums, and for international fairs. Among the most important include designs for the Austrian Pavilion at the following:
Hoffmann celebrated his eighty-fifth birthday at the Palais Stoclet and died soon there-after of a stroke in Vienna in May 1956.
Joseph Maria Olbrich was an Austrian architect and co-founder of the Secession Movement. Olbrich was born in Opava, Austrian Silesia (today in the Czech Republic). His father was a prosperous confectioner and wax manufacturer who also owned a brick works, where Olbrich's interest in the construction industry has its early origin.
Olbrich studied architecture at the University of Applied Arts Vienna (Wiener Staatsgewerbeschule) and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where he won several prizes. In 1893, he started working for Otto Wagner, the Austrian architect, and probably did the detailed construction for most of Wagner's Wiener Stadtbahn (Metropolitan Railway) buildings.
In 1897, Gustav Klimt, Olbrich, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser founded the Vienna Secession artistic group. Olbrich designed the famous Secession Hall, which became the movement's landmark. In 1899, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, founded the Darmstadt Artists' Colony, for which Olbrich designed many houses (including his own) and several exhibition buildings.
In the following years, Olbrich executed diverse architectural commissions and experimented in applied arts and design. He designed pottery, furniture, book bindings, and musical instruments. His architectural works, especially his exhibition buildings for the Vienna and Darmstadt Secessions, had a strong influence on the development of the Art Nouveau style. Olbrich died from leukemia in Düsseldorf on August 8, aged 40.
Dagobert Peche was born April 3, 1887 in St. Michael im Lungau, Salzburg. He trained as an architect yet his career was built on his extraordinary talent as a decorative arts designer. Peche has been credited with ushering in a new era for the decorative arts.
In 1906, Peche began his studies at the Technische Hochschule (Technical College) in Vienna under Max von Ferstel, Karl König, and Leopold Simony before transferring in 1908 to the Akademie der bildenden Künste in Vienna (Academy of Fine Arts), where the architect Friedrich Ohmann was his main influence.
In 1910 he traveled to Great Britain, where he is believed to have seen the work of the graphic artist Aubrey Beardsley; Peche's early style shows the influece of Beardsley's line. Peche's work was published in Der Architekt from 1909 until 1911. He met Petronella (Nelly) Daberkow in 1910, and the two married the following year, when he also graduated from the Akademie.
At a birthday celebration for architect Otto Wagner, Peche met Josef Hoffmann. Soon thereafter, Peche was offering textile and wallpaper designs to the Wiener Werkstätte. He also showed ability in other areas and began contributing designs for furniture, glass, jewelry, toys, and other objects. In the field of graphic arts, he designed postcards, as well as invitation cards, bookplates, and posters. His figures, often putti, reclining nudes, or costumed harlequin figures from the commedia dell'arte pose suggestively, with a touch of the Rococo style, and carry a playful erotic charge. Peche also designed woodcuts, which were included in the fashion portfolio Mode Wien 1914/15.
While his involvement with the Wiener Werkstätte grew, Peche also supplied designs to other firms, including Johann Backhausen, & Söhne (textiles and carpets), Vereinigte Wiener & Gmundner Keramik (ceramics), Oskar Dietrich (jewelry), J. Soulek (furniture), and Max Schmidt and Flammersheim & Steinmann (wallpaper).
Peche officially joined the Wiener Werkstätte as artistic director in the spring of 1915, after the outbreak of World War I. He was drafted to serve in the war in 1916, but was released in 1917 after suffering from appendicitis. With Hoffmann's aid, Peche and his family moved in 1917 to Zürich, where he directed the Zürich branch of the Wiener Werkstätte until 1919. Peche returned to Vienna at the end of 1919, where he died on April 16, 1923 of a malignant tumor.
"Dagobert Peche was the greatest ornamental genius Austria has produced since the Baroque."
Adolf Loos was an architect and designer associated with the Secession for a time, but he became disenchanted with what he regarded as the superficial decorative concerns of that movement. His reputation rests in large degree on his writings, which include early statements of theory that became central to the development of modernism.
His essay "Ornament und Verbrechen" (Ornament and Crime) of 1908 attacks the use of ornament, which he viewed as a needless expression of degeneracy that modern civilization could best eliminate. While Loos's attempt to make a clear association between ornament and criminality now seems odd, his view of ornament as inappropriate to modern mechanized production is central to much of the design of the twentieth century. His own work included simple bentwood furniture for the Thonet firm, and glassware (still in production) for Lobmeyr.
His architectural work was, oddly, by no means free of ornament. A Vienna retail shop of 1909-11 for the firm of Goldman & Salatsch used Greek Doric columns as exterior ornament for its lower floors, but nevertheless attracted anger and ridicule because the upper, residential apartment floors have plain, white walls with rows of plain, square windows.
The tiny Vienna Kärntner Bar of 1907, with its ceiling of rectangular panels, floor tiled in squares, and rich woods and leathers for the furnishings, is hardly an austere space.
By contrast, Loos's Steiner House of 1910 carries austerity to the brink of brutality with its blocky white-walled masses punctured by scattered window openings. Interiors are less doctrinaire, with a clutter of contemporary Viennese comforts.
The Rufer House at Schließmanngasse 11 in Vienna, was designed by architect Adolf Loos in 1922 for Josef and Marie Rufer. It is considered to be the first example of the new style of Raumplan. Raumplan was very different from its predecessor Free Plan in its internal spatial organization. While not as well known as some of the other Loos’ houses, this set the precedent for his later designs.