Description & Technical information
Christian Witt-Doerring, curator at the Neue Galerie, NY, writes:
Ödön Moiret (1883-1967) was trained as a sculptor in the early twentieth century at the Budapest Academy of Art, the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Academy of Science and Fine Arts in Brussels, and subsequently worked almost exclusively in this medium. The furniture he designed for his studio, shown here, is an exception in his oeuvre but at the same time typical of artistic awareness in Hungary after 1900. This is aligned on the one hand within the context of a constant increase in political national awareness in the Crownlands of the Habsburg Monarchy since the mid-nineteenth century, and, on the other hand, the social Utopias of the English Arts & Crafts movement. For the former, inspiration was sought above all in the Finnish national movement, which arose under conditions similar to Hungary and was led by Akseli Gallen-Kallela and Eliel Saarinen. The foremost representatives of the Hungarian Arts & Crafts movement were in direct contact with them and the protagonists of the English Arts & Crafts movement Walter Crane, Charles Ashbee and Baillie Scott. They created the preconditions for a specific realisation of these ideas in Hungary. In the course of defining an autonomous Hungarian identity as opposed to the all-powerful Austrian partner in the Austrian-Hungarian dual monarchy, they imagined identification of their own roots in the culture of the hunters and riders of the East under the leadership of Attila. This seemed to have been best preserved in the rural-peasant culture of Transylvania, which sparked off a lively campaign of collecting, research and publishing in a hitherto scarcely noticed field. Alongside Aladár Körösföi-Kriesch, the founder of the artists’ colony in Gödöllö, it was above all Ede Toroczkai-Wigand who sensitised Moiret to the artistic potential of his own cultural heritage during a trip together through Transylvania. Moiret thereafter decided to settle in the artists’ colony of Gödöllö. His sojourn lasted from October 1907 to March 1908, when he must have become more and more determined to arrange his entire home after his own designs. The idea propagated by the Arts & Crafts movement of creating a better social and aesthetic environment for all was put to experiment and practice in the Gödöllö artists’ colony by integrating art into everyday life. The equal status of the fine and applied arts was an outcome of the all-embracing artistic standards of design existing there and eventually resulted in the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk – the total work of art. In architecture and interior design this produced houses for the artists based on an overall concept in the tradition of the “Künstler-Heim”, the artist’s home. The furniture designed by Moiret for his successive homes in Budapest, Gödöllö and Vienna must be viewed in this light. Alongside his overall design for a complete apartment to be seen today in the MAK Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna and in a New York private collection, the furnishings for his studio comprise the few remaining witnesses to the creation of a Hungarian national consciousness around 1900. Because Moiret lived only in two rented rooms in Gödöllö, in the so-called Kohl House on Iskola utca, the studio furnishings must have been created for his apartment on Wiedner Gürtel 6 in Vienna, which he moved to in September 1908. It consisted of a studio cabinet (MAK), a book cabinet (?), a writing desk, a flower stand (lost) and a bench, also two armchairs. This furniture is already a further development in comparison with the bedroom furnishings of 1907 (now at the MAK), evolving an autonomous language of forms without obvious allusions to Transylvanian folk art. However, the so-called primitive plank style remains the determining aesthetic element defining the furniture structure. This was an international phenomenon, originating in England, intending to inspire and visualise connotations of a source in some Golden Age not yet spoiled or clouded by layers of cultural history accumulated over the centuries. The Arts & Crafts movement saw this source in the handcrafted production of the Middle Ages, which did not yet recognise a dichotomy between the fine and applied arts, between design and execution. Consequentially, this means that the form is created out of the logical application of handicraft on the relevant material. A consistent implementation of this ideal thus demands – as in Moiret’s furniture – the complete renunciation of techniques in wood-joining and veneering developed in the course of refining carpentry as a craft, techniques which enable a design independent of the raw material of the plank. All the furniture in the studio arrangement is made of planks butt-joined to one another. As a rule this is done with nails, only in the rarest of cases with pegs. The planks themselves retain their elemental materiality, the applied blue stain letting the wood grain shine through. This desired “primitiveness” is reinforced by the use of crudely hammered metal mounts and hand-wrought nails. The twine, made of hand-plaited maize straw, achieves the rest and wound over the furniture handholds. It simultaneously serves as a welcome reference to the origins of the Hungarian national style as they survived in rural areas. The peculiarity of this aesthetic idiom based on planks was already termed “Bretterstil” – plank style – in contemporary art reviews. Prominent exponents of the style around 1900 included Josef Hoffmann, Baillie-Scott and Charles R. Mackintosh. Though already outdated by 1908 compared with international trends, Moiret continued to use this form of expression out of national considerations. However he adds to it his own sculptural quality. This is captured in the three-dimensionality of his designs, to which the two-dimensionality of the flat plank elements is subordinate. From this point of view, the designs have very little in common with the “Brettelstil” – the plank style – of 1900. This is particularly striking in the two armchairs, conceived in the round. The latter attribute is guaranteed by the equal visual weight given to the four side-views of the chairs, each of which thus takes the stage in the surrounding space with the same intensity. Moiret reduces the thickness of the individual board elements to a tectonic minimum, in part tapers their contours, generates framework elements that open up perspectives, and thus, in the end, undermines the two-dimensionality of the board elements. This creates an imaginary, closed, cubic impression, with the inherent potential of an ephemeral visual ambiguity. This spatially outgoing impression is intensified by Moiret’s avoidance, wherever possible, of an orthogonal anchoring with the surrounding space. For instance, he makes the armrest boards and their supports, also the upholstered seat slope downwards to the fore, gives the seat a trapezoid layout, and leads the straight back end of the seat into a fourfold division of the backrest top. The role played by the chair upholstery is by no means subordinate in Moiret’s design. Both visually and conceptually it complements the demands of the wooden frame. Visually, it emphasises the aspect of variability through cords, fastened by lengths of fabric with the seat upholstery, which is tautened over the wooden frame. The open backrest is closed in a similar way. This time there are no lengths of fabric to which the twine is fastened, but a weave made of maize-straw twine, its warp and weft open to four sides and stretched vertically and horizontally over the backrest frame. The conceptual connotation, which aims to convey the national element, is evoked through the material and the technique of application. The maize straw refers to the aforementioned rural vestiges of the Hungarian people’s past. Creating a loose textile covering by means of cord on a bearing element recalls the “primitive” beginnings of upholstery technique and is thus a further reference to a cultural source.
Period: 20th century
Medium: Stained dark brown alder
Dimensions: 195.5 x 116.5 x 52.5 cm (77 x 45⁷/₈ x 20⁵/₈ inches)
Literature: Edmund Moiret 1883-1967. Möbel und frühe Plastiken; Österr. Museum für angewandte Kunst Katalog Neue Folge Nr. 60; Vienna 1985 Juliet Kincin; Hungary: Shaping a national consciousness. In: Wendy Kaplan (ed.); The Arts & Crafts Movement in Europe & America; Los Angeles and New York 2004, p. 142-177 Drawings: MAK, inv.no. K.I. 14536-3 and K.I. 14536-7
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20th Century Decorative Art
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