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Josef Hoffmann’s ”Aufsatz” centerpieces

The Wiener Werkstätte evolved from the Vienna Secession and the British arts and crafts movement when Josef Hoffmann further developed these progressive ideas to a new enterprise.  Together with Koloman Moser the two young and promising artists  founded the Wiener Werkstätte with financial backing by the patron Fritz Wärndorfer in 1903.  The company was a community of artists in Vienna which brought togheter artists, architects and designers. They started with a moderate three small rooms and gradually expanded the operations to include branches in Karlsbad, Marienbad, New York and Berlin.

The firm had a broad approach and worked with the principle of Gesamtkunstwerk or i.e. total artwork where every single detail was designed as an integrated part of the project at hand. This meant that the spectrum of production included architectural commissons, applied arts, metal works, textiles, wallpapers and so on.

The Werkstätte struggled financially during its existance 1903-1931 much due to the limited stock of clients which mainly consisted of artists and the Jewish upper middleclass in the Austro – Hungarian Empire. The items were not massproduced and were made with a high level of craftsmanship. The aim was to renew the very idea of art regarding the applied arts and to leave behind the industrial copying of past eras and styles thus making every day items beautiful for the great majority of the people. The items the  firm produced were still quite expensive  and exclusive at the time and Wiener Wärkstätte constantly relied on the support of wealthy patrons.

The altar-like centrepiece with its two winged handles was designed in 1924-25 and made in a total of 293 examples. Through the preparatory sketch one can study the instructions Hoffmann gave to the metalworkers which stated the 24 gadroons and the thickness of the brass to 3,5 mm and not to make the surface smooth but rather keeping the rough hammered  appearance. The foot and the bowl were pressed and chased and the serpentine handles were hammered out of one piece. Besides the version made in brass there were also an edition of 20 pieces in alpaca and four examples made in silver, model S sh 50. The model is listed in the Wiener Werkstätte catalogue of 1928 at a cost of 105 schilling. It was also exhibited at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs, Paris 1925.

”Brass presents itself in an even richer display than silver. The brightness of lightning is amplified by countless movements in its surface, while the powerful contrast between yellow metal and the green and white of the plants is brought into lively play”.

The design combining both geometrical convex and concave forms makes an interesting contrast to the rather eccentric yet playfull execution of the handles. The centerpiece is a great example of Hoffmanns fluted metalwork from the 1920’s and bears distinctive resemblance to the early works of  the Wiener Werkstätte.

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