Description & Technical information

Executed by Thonet
Christian Witt-Doerring, curator of the Neue Galerie, wrote:

Marcel Kammerer’s (1878-1969) work in architecture and design owes its powers of artistic expression to his teacher Otto Wagner. He studied with him from 1898 to 1901 at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts and worked in his architectural bureau from 1902-1910. Among his best known designs are several pieces of bentwood furniture created around 1904 for the Gebrüder Thonet company.

Kammerer must already have been confronted with the task of designing furniture from bent wood in 1902, when Otto Wagner received the commission of designing the Viennese dispatch bureau “Die Zeit”. Wagner used the bentwood technique here for the first time, desiring to design practical and cost-efficient furniture. Four years later in 1906, he produced his most important bentwood concept, the stool for the counter hall of the Post Office Savings Bank. So the collaboration between his pupil and assistant Kammerer and the Thonet bentwood company must certainly have been organised by Wagner, who always endeavoured to pass on commissions from industry to his pupils. Wagner himself designed furniture only within the scope of his own projects, but not for mass production. Kammerer’s work as a designer for Thonet is documented exclusively for the years around 1904/05, during which period he produced several model designs, shown among other places at the 1906 Imperial Royal Austrian Exhibition in Earls Court, London.

The two armchairs and the table were illustrated in 1905 in the Viennese monthly periodical for architecture “Das Interieur”, together with a bench with and without side table and a plant stand. However, these furnishings were not adopted into the Thonet sales catalogues, apart from the table and the plant stand, though in a simplified version. This fact and their extreme rarity on the market make it plausible that these pieces were purely for exhibition purposes. The same applies to a recently discovered coat stand with integrated table compartment showing the same constructional features and decorative details as this bentwood suite. Production technique and thus in part the aesthetic and conceptual basis for Kammerer’s designs were developed by Josef Hoffmann in partnership with the bentwood manufacturers J. & J. Kohn. They worked on a process around 1901/02 enabling them to bend square-sectioned wooden rods at right angles. Kammerer was able the design system for this suite of furniture on this process. In contrast to Hoffmann, however, he uses only U- or L-shaped and not round-bent rods. Kammerer hits on a very pragmatic solution for the table by assembling the single U-bends into a table construction. Like the Post Office Savings Bank stool two years later, the U-bends are screwed together flush with each other. Kammerer turns the U-bend once with opening downwards to serve as feet and then once upwards to hold the tabletop. He lends the whole object structural stability in the top third of the table by means of five bentwood ring stretchers, which he spans between the two upwardly open U-bends, whereby the first ring stretcher bearing the tabletop is invisible – hence creating a transparent table apron. As decorative accentuation for this “apron” he places two rows of flat aluminium coils on top of each other at each outer edge of the apron between the four bentwood ring stretchers. Aluminium serves as an accentuating structural element in the form of stud covers for the screws on the legs, and as sabots at the leg-ends. Kammerer became acquainted with the use of aluminium instead of brass in interior design for example in Wagner’s furnishings for “Die Zeit”. Wagner favoured it for economic reasons, since it has no need of regular, costly cleaning. The table was included in a simplified version as table no. 40 in 1907 in the supplement to the Thonet sales catalogue of 1905/06.

In designing the armchair Kammerer works with similar aesthetic and constructional detail as in the table. A wholly innovative feature is the use of loose cushions instead of fixed upholstery. Seat and back cushions are each rigged to the seating and back frames by means of two leather straps. This does not evoke the character of temporary, cheap upholstering and yet maintains the cost-efficient nature of the procedure. The straps are just as wide as the thickness of the bentwood rods, thus adopt their proportions and blend in as part of the structural composition of the seating furniture. In 1906, Wagner was to use this system of flexible upholstering for the public area of the Post Office Savings Bank in the marble bench at the bottom of the staircase to the director’s office.

Refs.: Das Interieur; 1905, p. 82
Derek Ostergard (ed.); Bent Wood Furniture and Metal Furniture 1850-1946; The American Federation of Arts, New York, 1987, p. 115f., 254

Date:  1904
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Vienna
Medium: Aluminium, Leather, Bent solid beechwod, Laminated wood
Dimensions: 112.3 x 65.5 x 61 cm (44¹/₄ x 25³/₄ x 24 inches)
Categories: Furniture