Description & Technical information

Christian Witt-Doerring, curator at the Neue Galerie, NY, writes:

The Wiener Werkstätte produced its inkwell model S 511 for the first time in 1905,, two further examples of which were sold in 1906 for 210 crowns. The first buyer was the physician Dr. Hermann Wittgenstein. He came from a family background of the Viennese Jewish haute bourgeoisie, a family that belonged to the circle of the Wiener Werkstätte's major customers and one of the most important patrons of the Vienna Secession. His father Karl Wittgenstein helped among other things to finance the building of the Vienna Secession. Hoffmann designed a fair number of home furnishings for the family, which the Wiener Werkstätte also executed in their entirety. On the occasion of his son Hermann's marriage to Lyda Fries, Karl Wittgenstein commissioned the Wiener Werkstätte to furnish the young couple's apartment in Vienna 3, Salesianergasse 7. One of the objects Hoffmann designed for the salon was a small writing desk, now in the collection of the MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, and contemporary illustrations show the inkwell in situ in the lower compartment of the pigeon holes .

The inkwell surface, sectioned into individual, oblong and bombé rectangles, manifests an ornamental system Hoffmann had been developing since 1905, one he applied to a great variety and number of silver utensils, including in a complete table service. It corresponds to the aesthetic concept of his that is typical of that year, the interplay of rigid, angular outer contours and soft, rounded inner tracing. Thus the dining room sideboard he designed at the same time for the Berlin apartment of Hermann Wittgenstein's sister, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein, shows a system of round rods framed by angular contours. The same design system is encountered in the studio cabinet and painting cabinet executed in 1904 by the Wiener Werkstätte for Gustav Klimt's studio. The use of a veiled, architecturally monumental idiom on a small object such as the inkwell – in association expressing two pavilions connected by a terraced parapet – also the deliberate blurring of surface and space, is a logical extension of the juxtaposition of opposites described above. This deployment of aesthetic opposites to generate a charged and very personal, new, and harmonious unit is characteristic of Hoffmann's effervescent creativity, which already bears within it the germ of a post-modern aesthetic approach.

The marking of the inkwell executed by the Wiener Werkstätte has been shifted forthrightly into the foreground in the middle of a high-gloss polished surface in the centre of the object, exuding self-confidence and brio. Like today's use of a company logo on a brand-name article, not only the manufacturer or the designer is publicised visually, but also the craftsman who executed it. This is in keeping with the ideology of the Arts & Crafts movement, which imparts equal aesthetic and social validity to the work of both design and execution.

Archival sources: MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts;
inv. no. K.I. 12069/1, WWF 93/18, WWMB 8, p.511
Ref.: Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, vol. XVIII, 1906, p. 457

Date:  1905
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Vienna
Medium: silver, Glass
Dimensions: 8.7 x 25.8 x 6.5 cm (3³/₈ x 10¹/₈ x 2¹/₂ inches)
Literature: Archival sources: MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts; 
inv. no. K.I. 12069/1, WWF 93/18, WWMB 8, p.511 
Ref.: Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, vol. XVIII, 1906, p. 457

Categories: Silver