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Wiener Werkstätte Decorative arts in the Musée d'Orsa

The Rejection of the Machine

Wiener Werkstätte (1903 – 1932) was an Austrian Arts and Crafts Studio in Vienna.

History of Wiener Werkstätte

The Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) was formed in June 1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, with financial backing from wealthy entrepreneur Fritz Wärndorfer. The Wiener Werkstätte traces its Austrian roots to the late nineteenth-century Secessionist movement, inspired by William Morris, John Ruskin, and C. R. Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft, founded in England in 1888.

Wiener Werkstätte Exhibition poster by Josef Hoffmann
Wiener Werkstätte Exhibition poster

The Secession Exhibitions and the monthly Ver sacrum advocated its values (which in 1900 included work by C. R. Mackintosh and Ashbee that impressed through its simplicity of form). The Secession embraced the applied arts while vehemently opposing the art establishment’s conservative attitude. Metalwork, glass, ceramics, furniture, wallpaper, graphics, clothes, and jewellery were among the early Wiener Werkstätte items marked by geometric motifs and abstract patterns. The unusually rectilinear Werkstätte logotype said to have been developed by Koloman Moser in 1903, was used to typeset this. These characteristics appear similar to the standardised shapes of current German design in its search for modern product types that were aesthetically consistent with twentieth-century manufacturing technologies.

Wiener Werkstätte domain of wealthy

Despite the original goals of its founders, who intended to manufacture beautiful, basic designs for the house, Werkstätte’s most handcrafted products were inherently expensive. They remained the purview of a wealthy clientele, even though they employed more than 100 workers by 1905.

Designers of the Wiener Werkstätte

Carl Czeschka, Otto Prütscher, Berthold Löffler, and Michael Powolny were the designers of Werkstätte’s early years. Around 1915, there was a transition from Moser and Hoffmann’s rectilinear abstraction to a more florid, curved, and commercial style influenced by Dagobert Peche, the Werkstätte’s director, from 1910 to 1923.

Many women designed for the Werkstätte after WWI, reflecting the traditional percentages of women training and working in the applied arts. Vally Wieselthier, a textile, glass, wallpaper, and ceramics designer who won gold and silver medals at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels, epitomised this movement.

Despite opening new retail stores, including one on Fifth Avenue in New York, the Werkstätte was disbanded in 1932 due to the harsh economic situation that followed the 1929 Wall Street Crash.

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Sources

Woodham, J. M. (2006). A dictionary of modern design. Oxford University Press.

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