Writing Case, design Josef Hoffmann and Mathilde Flogl, by manufactured Wiener Werkstatte, circa 1924, Leather gold embossing, marked
Bib.: Same object in the MAK, Wiener Werkstaette in the Museum for Applied Arts in Vienna, inventory number LE 541-1.
In the 1920s, the leather department of the Wiener Werkstatte produced high quality leather objects. From five feet tower cabinets designed by Otto Prutscher to match cases by Josef Hoffmann they produced most of their items in gold embossed goat leather.
The shape of this writing case was designed by Josef Hoffmann around 1919. The decor was sketched by one of the most versatile female artists of Wiener Werkstatte, Mathilde Flögl. It is made of gold embossed goat leather and silk on the inside. It is marked with the gold embossed “Wiener Werk Stätte” signet.
The shape of this writing case was designed by Josef Hoffmann around 1919. The decor was sketched by Mathilde Flögl. It is made from gold embossed goat leather and silk on the inside. It is marked with the gold embossed “Wiener Werk Stätte”.
Josef Hoffmann (Brtnice 1870 – 1956 Vienna), co-founder of the Viennese Secession and of the Wiener Werkstätte, was an extremely productive and versatile architect and designer. Throughout his career he experimented with various forms, techniques and materials. In his designs, he was striving for a strong reduction of the form to the essential and was a pioneer of geometric Jugendstil. This is how his characteristic geometric style was established. The scope of his designs ranges from buildings and entire interiors, following the concept of the “Gesamtkunstwerk” (total work of art), all the way to small details of everyday life. One of his most significant works is the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, a Gesamtkunstwerk which he executed for a wealthy entrepreneur between 1905 and 1911 in collaboration with, among others, Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser.
Wiener Werkstatte 1903 – 1932
The Wiener Werkstatte was a production community founded on the model of the Arts and Crafts movement, which aimed to provide a platform for artistically designed and high quality crafts. Or, as G. Fahr-Becker puts it “…it was a workshop that gathered many, a work of art as the result of all the arts.”
Founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser and industrialist Fritz Waerndorfer, the Wiener Werkstatte (WW) initially produced and distributed only metal objects. The range was subsequently rapidly expanded to include furniture, furnishings, textiles, jewellery, accessories made of ceramics and glass, leather, etc.
The wide range of products was sold in the company’s own business premises in Vienna and, for a time, also in branches in Zurich and New York.
The founding fathers and artistic directors J. Hoffmann and K. Moser originally pursued the ideal of artistic penetration of all areas of life in the sense of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). This radical aspiration could only be realized in a few projects, which were commissioned primarily by upper-class patrons. Impressive examples of this are the Palais Stoclet in Brussels or the Villa Skywa-Primavesi in Vienna.
In its early years, the company was still committed to a strict geometric style, but this functionalism was soon expanded to include more pleasing forms. As a representative of a more decorative line, we should mention Dagobert Peche, who with his playful, imaginative ornamentation contributed designs for all divisions of WW.
An important creative contribution, especially in the decorative sections of the WW, was made by the female artists from around 1915. The best known would probably be the ceramic artists Vally Wieselthier and Gudrun Baudisch. The significance of many of these female designers has only been duly appreciated in recent years*.
The increasingly difficult economic environment after World War I led to the liquidation of the WW in 1932. Gabriele Fahr-Becker writes: “The financial difficulties which the Wiener Werkstatte had to face during its existence were not primarily the result of economic ignorance, but were based on the fact that the broad public could not be reached as buyers” (G. Fahr-Becker, Wiener Werkstätte, Taschen 1994, p. 12).
Beyond the relatively short period of its existence, the Wiener Werkstatte exerted a lasting influence. Arts and crafts as well as applied arts were decisively revalued and a whole generation of architects, artists and designers were influenced by the artistic will of their founding fathers.
*Bib.: C. Thun-Hohenstein, A.-K. Rossberg, E. Schmuttermeier (ed.), Die Frauen der Wiener Werkstatte (The Women of the Wiener Werkstatte), exhibition catalog Museum of Applied Arts Vienna, Wien 2020
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