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Art Nouveau and the Wiener Werkstätte

Art Nouveau—or Jugendstil, as it was called in Germany—was an important precursor of Expressionism. Although Art Nouveau's most important contributions were made in the area of applied design, Art Nouveau artists and artisans shared with the contemporaneous Symbolist painters a desire to reintegrate art and life. One of the most important Art Nouveau groups was the Wiener Werkstätte, an Austrian design collective established by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser in 1903. The Wiener Werkstätte had a showroom in New York in the 1920s, but the first gallery exhibition of this work in the United States was mounted by the Galerie St. Etienne in 1966.

Left: Josef Diveky. Postcard Published by the Wiener Werkstätte. 1908. Color lithograph. 5 1/2" x 3 1/2" (14 x 8.9 cm).Private collection.

Right: Ferdinand Andri. Poster for the 26th Secession Exhibition. 1906. Color lithograph. Private collection.

A CHRONOLOGICAL HISTORY OF THE WIERNER WERKSTÄTTE

1897 Gustav Klimt and a group of relatively progressive artists secede from the Künstlerhaus, which runs the only Viennese exhibition facility for contemporary art. Later that year the Secession is given a site on which to construct its own building by the City of Vienna. Arthur von Scala is named director of the Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie, ushering in a more liberal era. In Darmstadt Alexander Koch begins publishing the magazine Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration.

 

1898 The Secession holds its first exhibition in rented quarters and, later that year, inaugurates its own building. It also publishes the first issue of its journal, Ver Sacrum. Josef Hoffmann receives a teaching post at the Kunstgewerbeschule, and Klimt receives a commission to paint three allegorical panels for the University of Vienna.

 

1899 Koloman Moser begins teaching at the Kunstgewerbeshule; Joseph Maria Olbrich, architect of the Secession building, fails to get a teaching post there and instead leaves Vienna for the artists’ colony of Mathildenhöhe, outside Darmstadt.

 

1900 The Secession mounts a major exhibition of international design including, work by Ashbee, Mackintosh and van de Velde. Moser exhibits his first furniture, and Hoffmann begins work on the Hohe Warte villa colony on the outskirts of Vienna. Klimt’s first University painting creates a scandal in Vienna but is awarded a prize at the Paris World’s Fair, where the exhibitions of Austrian applied arts (installed by Hoffmann) also win special praise.

 

1901 Members of Hoffmann’s and Moser’s first class of Kunstgewerbeschule graduates exhibit with the Wiener Kunstgewerbeverein under the name Wiener Kunst im Hause.

 

1902 The Austrian Ministry of Education sends Felicien von Myrbach and Hoffmann to study schools in England. Carl Otto Czeschka begins teaching at the Kunstgewerbeschule. The Beethoven exhibition at the Secession combines sculpture, painting, architecture and music in a total environment.

 

1903 The Wiener Werkstätte is founded by Hoffmann and Moser with financial backing from Fritz Wärndorfer. At first it occupies a small apartment on the Heumühlgasse, but then it moves to permanent quarters on the Neustiftgasse, containing workshops for metalwork, leatherwork, bookbinding, and a paint shop. Ver Sacrum ceases regular publication. Otto Wagner begins work on the Steinhof church (1903-07).

 

1904 The Wiener Werkstätte receives among its early commissions, the assignment to build the Purkersdorf Sanatorium (1904-05) and to prepare a commemorative publication for the hundredth anniversary of the Österreichische Staatsdruckerei. A woodworking shop is added (in operation until ca. 1907/08). The Werkstätte has its first exhibition at the Hohenzollern Kunstgewerbehaus in Berlin, and Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration publishes its first article on the Werkstätte. Hoffmann’s friend Joseph Lux founds the journal Hohe Warte. Moser begins work on the stained-glass windows and altarpiece for the Steinhof church. Klimt’s friend Paul Bacher buys the Galerie Miethke and Carl Moll takes over as artistic adviser.

 

1905 The Wiener Werkstätte is included in the itinerary of the Wiener Kunstwanderungen (art tours) and publishes a formal work program. It prints its first textiles and has its first Viennese exhibition (consisting of bookbindings) at the Galerie Miethke. Czeschka becomes active in the Werstätte and designs its first postcard. Work begins on the Palais Stoclet (1905-11). Klimt renounces the University commission; he and his associates secede from the Secession.

 

1906 A new showroom is added to the Neustiftgasse premises and inaugurated with the exhibition “The Laid Table.” Michael Powolny and Berthold Löffler found the Wiener Keramik.

 

1907 The Wiener Werkstätte opens its first showroom in downtown Vienna, on the Graben, and takes over distribution for the Wiener Keramik. It begins publication of its postcard series and also designs the Cabaret Fledermaus. Moser leaves to devote more time to painting. Czeschka accepts a teaching post in Hamburg, and Löffler takes over his class at the Kunstgewerbeschule. The Werstätte becomes a founding member of the Deutscher Werkbund.

 

1908 To commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of Emperor Franz Josef’s reign, a mammoth Festzug (festival parade) and exhibition, the “Kunstschau,” are arranged. The Wiener Werkstätte publishes a series of commemorative postcards as well as Oskar Kokoschka’s book Die träumenden Knaben; Kokoschka makes his debut at the “Kunstchau.”

 

1909 A second “Kunstschau” includes work by Egon Schiele as well as Kokoschka. Powolny begins teaching at the Kunstgewerbeschule. The Wiener Werkstätte opens a full-fledged textile division.

 

1910 An experimental fashion division, under Eduard Wimmer’s direction, is opened at the Werkstätte’s Karlsbad branch. Hoffmann and Lobmeyer collaborate on glassware.

 

1911 International exhibition in Rome. The fashion department receives an official license to operate and opens premises next to the Werkstätte’s Graben showroom.

 

1912 The fashion department scores its first decisive success at the Hohenzollern Kunstgewerbehaus in Berlin. Wimmer begins teaching at the Kunstgewerbeschule.

 

1913 The Artists’ Workshops begin operation on the Döblergasse, in a building built and owned by Wagner. The Wiener Keramik merges with the Gmundner Keramik. The Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie organizes a wallpaper exhibition. Founding of the Österreichischer Werkbund. With an outstanding debt of 1.5 million kronen, the Werkstätte temporarily halts production.

 

1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand is assassinated in Sarajevo and World War I begins. The Wiener Werstätte is liquidated and reorganized as a privately held corporation (Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung); the Primavesi family becomes the largest stockholders. The fashion department is granted “factory” status and moves to enlarged quarters on the Johannesgasse. Deutscher Werbkbund exhibition in Cologne. Publication of Mode Wien 1914/15.

 

1915 New main offices are opened on the Tegetthoffstrasse. Otto Primavesi becomes managing director. Dagobert Peche becomes manager of the Artists’ Workshops. The Wiener Werkstätte begins to produce hand-painted glassware. Fashion exhibition at the Österreichisches Museum.

 

1916 At Peche’s request, an ivory workshop is added. The fashion department opens a showroom in the Palais Esterhazy on the Kärntnerstrasse. Emperor Franz Josef dies and is succeeded by his nephew, Karl.

 

1917 Branches in Marienbad and Zürich (supervised by Peche) and a textile shop on the Kärntnerstrasse near the fashion showroom are opened. The Artists’ Workshops begin producing ceramics.

 

1918 Klimt, Schiele and Moser die. World War I ends, as does the Habsburg monarchy; proclamation of the Austrian Republic.

 

1919 Peche returns from Zürich and becomes artistic director of the Wiener Werkstätte. Max Schmidt brings out the first Peche wallpaper collection. Equipment for glass cutting and engraving is acquired. The fashion showroom in the Palais Esterhazy is enlarged.

 

1920 A “Kunstschau” commemorates the dead; the Wiener Werkstätte is criticized for being out of touch with the times. Phillip Häusler attempts to reorganize the Werkstätte along more practical lines. The Zürich branch closes.

 

1921 A New York branch is opened by the stage designer and architect Josef Urban.

 

1922 A branch is opened in Velden. Wimmer goes to America, and Max Snischek and Maria Likarz take over the fashion department.

 

1923 Peche dies and is succeeded by Julius Zimpel.

 

1924 The fashion department is constituted as an independent entity, the Modehaus der Wiener Werkstätte Primavesi & Co. The New York branch folds.

 

1925 Zimpel dies. Häusler quits. Wimmer returns from America and resumes his post at the Kunstgeerbeschule but not at the Wiener Werkstätte. The Werkstätte is attacked because of its poor sowing at the Paris Art Deco exhibition.

 

1926 Primavesi dies and his bank collapses. The Wiener Werkstätte becomes a publicly held corporation (Aktiengesellschaft).

 

1927 The fashion department is reabsorbed into the company as a whole. Lore Grohmann takes over as manager of the Werkstätte.

 

1928 The Wiener Werkstätte celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary.

 

1929 A Berlin branch opens and is an immediate failure; an attempt to revive the New York branch likewise fails. Salubra brings out a Mathilde Flögl wallpaper collection.

 

1930 The silver workshop is closed. Grohmann resigns. Hoffmann and Georges Oeri acquire the stock of the Werkstätte.

 

1931 The fashion department closes its showroom in the Palais Esterhazy and moves in with the textile division. The workshop operation is terminated and liquidation of the inventory begins.

 

1932 The Wiener Werkstätte’s remaining inventory is liquidated in September, and the fashion department’s in November.

 

1939 The name Wiener Werkstätte is removed from the trade registry and its archives donated to the Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie.

 

1966 The Galerie St. Etienne mounts the Wiener Werkstätte’s first American exhibition.