Description & Technical information

Christian Witt-Dorring, curator at the Neue Galerie, New York, wrote:

The armchair is from the Vienna town apartment on Gumpendorferstrasse 15 which Josef Hoffmann designed for Sonja Knips in 1902/03. Sonja Knips is the epitome of female patronage in fin-de-siècle Vienna. In 1896 she married the industrial magnate Anton Knips. By 1897 she had already commissioned Klimt to paint her portrait. This commission must have brought Sonja Knips into contact with the Secessionists and thus Josef Hoffmann.
It was the start of a long relationship that resulted not only in the interior design of the VTienna town apartment (1902/03, 1909, 1915/16), the country house in Seeboden in Carinthia (1905) and the villa on Nusswaldgasse (1926), but also made her into a faithful customer at the fashion salon of the Flöge sisters and of the Wiener Werkstätte.

Das Interieur published an illustration in 1903 showing a suite of seating furniture in the music salon of the Knips apartment. Placed on a longer wall of the room, one on each side of the seating ensemble, are two armchairs of the type being described here, but with bossed squares inserted between the backrest splats. Their design is firmly rooted in the tradition of Viennese seating at the time around 1800, a period rediscovered and admired as a model by the Viennese design avant-garde around 1900 for its unpretentious and functional aesthetics. This sensibility endowed the armchair its form, abstracted down to the barest essentials. Hoffmann’s craft enabled him to transport the source of his inspiration into an independent and original product. While the chair’s contours – rectangular and comprised of sharp-edged splats – in no way intend to deny their origin around 1800, Hoffmann lends the chair a definitively contemporary expression. The chair’s character and quality is born of this charged relationship. To gain more comfort, the backrest leans back slanted and for more stability the chair has a cruciform foot open at the front, reminiscent of sledge runners. The latter is primarily a key aesthetic detail, however, which counterpoises an equivalent horizontality to the verticality expressed in the longitudinal splats of the back rest and in the legs. This horizontality is conveyed in the side view through the runner-type feet, the seat frame and the armrests. However, when frontally viewed, the vertical element prevails in the backrest splats, in the upholstery pulled over the front seat frame, and in the frontally open cruciform foot. A mediatory element can be interpreted into the curving and back-set armrest supports. They make an immediate optical reference to the runners extending beyond the rear legs and generate directional dynamics that again subtract from the armchair’s vertical statics.

Date:  1903
Period:  20th century
Origin:  Vienna
Medium: Grey-white painted wood, Original blue-black leather
Dimensions: 100 x 55 x 55 cm (39³/₈ x 21⁵/₈ x 21⁵/₈ inches)
Literature: References:
Das Interieur IV, 1903, p. 79
Manu von Miller; Sonja Knips und die Wiener Moderne; Vienna 2004, p.63

Categories: Furniture