Description & Technical information
Executed by the Wiener Werkstätte
Made for the Stonborough-Wittgenstein apartment, Berlin
Christian Witt-Dörring writes:
One of the rooms Koloman Moser designed in 1905 for the Berlin apartment of Jerome and Margaret Stonborough, the sister of Ludwig Wittgenstein, was the bedroom. The two armchairs were part of this ensemble, which is typical of moser in its striking reliance on colour contrasts for effect. The furniture is painted white and stands out boldly against the colourful stencil pattern of the wall. The dark, mono- chrome fabric upholstery contrasts with the white frame of the seating furniture. The Leopold Museum owns a design by Moser for the stencilled wall pattern which gives us an idea of the original colouring of the upholstery: “The dots aluminium/the ground of the birds grey/ the petals yellow after the fabric sample/the stems and leaves black”. At first, we are startled at the unexpected presence of a curving form as backrest top in an ensemble otherwise dominated by orthogonal forms. However, closer analysis of the inte- grated interior-design concept reveals it is a logical realisa- tion of a constantly recurring theme in turn-of-the-century Vienna, namely, the quest for a tradition that got lost in the wake of the historicist revival. This tradition is based on a quality that – as opposed to the historicist style – yields an aesthetic expression with roots in its own time, a qual- ity worth defining and investigating. For the artists of theVienna Secession, one of whose founders was Moser, this tradition lies almost a hundred years back in the time of their grandparents, the so-called “Biedermeier” era. If we look at Moser’s concept in this light, our initial bafflement suddenly dissolves and a harmonious whole emerges out of incongruent components.
The Viennese interior of the early nineteenth century – as opposed to historicism – works with bold contrasts. Dark furniture is placed in front of light-coloured walls and light- coloured furniture in front of dark walls. The same effect is sought in upholstery.
Light-coloured fabric is allotted to dark wood and vice versa. The most striking feature of this approach is the emphasis on the bearing elements. In seating furniture, for instance, the contours of the supporting wooden frame are clearly set off from the upholstery attached to it.
Moser enforces this feature by using the run of the border simply to cover the upholstery tacks and not the individual upholstery elements. The volume of the chair is dissected visually into frame and filling, thus is given a certain buoy- ancy. This is precisely the approach Moser chose for this armchair. As in Biedermeier, Moser’s border of black lan- ceolate leaves on bright background takes over a media- tory role between the dark upholstery fabric and the bright frame. Though the old-fashioned connotation of the curving backrest finds no direct correspondence in the Biedermeier model, it signals rootedness in a tradition. The inexpensive but effective technique of covering the bordered wall sec- tions of the bedroom with stencilled patterns also has its ori- gins in the early nineteenth century. Moser’s smooth, white furniture stands out clearly from the colourful repeat pattern of his ornamentation.
At first glance the armchairs convey an impression of utter simplicity and formal reduction. But on closer inspection they reveal themselves to be the sophisticated understatement of a complex design. Cross-rectangular squared timber seems to dominate the uniform appearance of the chairs. In order to create the overall orthogonal impression of the armchair in spite of its trapezoid layout, the chair legs require a rhom- boid cross-section in the continuation of the seat corners, which is only discernable at close inspection. The manner after all in which seat-frame and legs meet without the tec- tonics being unduly stressed visually – in other words, fusing vertical and horizontal together into one plane – yet again recalls Viennese Biedermeier of the 1820s.
Period: 20th century
Medium: Withe laquered wood
Dimensions: 98 x 67.5 x 70.5 cm (38⁵/₈ x 26⁵/₈ x 27³/₄ inches)
Literature: - Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration XVII, 1905/06, p. 161
- Christian Witt-Dörring; Josef Hoffmann. Interiors 1902-
1913; Munich, Berlin, London New York 2006, p. 208
- MAK, Wiener Werkstätte archives; WWF 102, pp. 76, 78
- Leopold Museum, Vienna, inv. nr. 2703
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