Description & Technical information

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

Fritz Wärndorfer's life would surely have followed a completely different course without the Vienna Secession and his friendship with its artists. He actively espoused their ideas and convictions, and with his total financial capacity, thus became its most important patron. His passion for collecting and his commitment to the Wiener Werkstätte – which owed its foundation to his financial potential – cost him in the end his entire fortune. His villa in Vienna 18, Weimarstrasse 59, was a mecca of international fin-de-siècle art. He had the interior design done by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser through the Wiener Werkstätte and commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to furnish his music room. In his gallery, designed by Moser, stood a lockable shrine designed especially for Klimt's "Hoffnung I". The room moreover housed the largest collection on the continent of works by Aubrey Beardsley. Throughout his life he had been a great admirer of Georges Minnes and bought many of his sculptures. A letter to Josef Hoffmann of 23 December 1902 expressed his entire wonderment and gratitude for the world of art opened up for him by Moser and Hoffmann. "You know, when I sometimes look at my things I feel as if the whole of the Secession was founded just for me. The Secession brought me my two friends, resp. best Viennese mates [Hoffmann and Moser]. You sent me to Glasgow - I wouldn't have had the foggiest idea about Minne without the two of you - in short, I feel like a pig you have fattened with your own fat. Doesn't matter, though."

Wärndorfer originally owned the exhibited centrepiece. Investing his private fortune, in 1903 he founded the Wiener Werkstätte together with Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser. It first consisted solely of a metal workshop, its headquarters and workshop set up in a small apartment on Heumühlgasse 6, Vienna 4. One room was occupied by the metal workshop, the other the silver workshop. This centrepiece basket derives from the founding year of the Wiener Werkstätte, and is also itemised in the WW order books as "bonbonnière". It has the work number S 56 and the first execution in April 1903 was one of the first silver objects ever made in the new workshop. Only three pieces were made of this model in all, each priced 100 crowns.

The little world of the basket manifests the great conceptual cosmos of the Wiener Werkstätte in an exemplary way. It is present in its every dimension, starting with the form, the material, right through to its final execution. Constructed on the simplest basic shapes, it radiates the self-evident aura of early nineteenth century functional Viennese silverware, an era imbued with a style of classicism and whose qualities were first rediscovered by the young generation around 1900, after which it became one of its main sources of inspiration. The ideology of the Wiener Werkstätte, which aimed to carry conviction through the quality of the workmanship and not the material value of the object, is reflected in the sensitively hammered surface and the use of modest semiprecious stones.

Date:  1903
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Vienna
Medium: silver, Carnelian
Dimensions: 19.2 cm (7¹/₂ inches)
Literature: Archive sources: MAK- Austrian Museum of Applied Arts; inv. no. K.I. 12033/39, WWMB 4, p. 134, WWF 93, p. 2
Ref.: Michael Huey (ed.); Viennese Silver. Modern Design 1780-1920; Ostfildern-Ruit 2003, p. 204f.

Categories: Decorative Arts & Design, Silver