Pair of cupboards
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Josef Hoffmann

Pair of cupboards

Yves Macaux

Date 1905

Period 20th century

Origin Berlin

Medium White lacquered wood

Dimension 180 x 90 x 47 cm (70⁷/₈ x 35³/₈ x 18¹/₂ inches)

Executed by the Wiener Werkstätte
Made for the nursery of the Stonborough Wittgenstein’s apartment, Berlin
2 pieces made
Christian Witt-Dörring writes:

Among the articles of furniture Josef Hoffmann designed in 1905 for the nursery in the Berlin apartment of Jerome and Margaret Stonborough were two clothes cabinets, one for hanging and the other for compartment storage. Their design is part of an integrally designed interior concept, though without contemplating a relationship with the wall. They were a means for him to create a space within a space, enabling him to augment the function of the room and moreover impress his own stamp upon the proportions for rooms that had originated in the years 1887/88. The two cabinets are no longer simply pieces of furniture, but elements of architectural structure. They are not positioned as is usual with their backs to the wall, but stand free in the room with one side facing the wall. Their width exactly matches the width of the bed, which is yoked between the two cabinets, long side against the wall. A rod for bed curtains was mounted on the top edge of each cabinet back in continuation of the front edge of the bed. This created an enclosed space of its own and assured a minimum of privacy for the nursemaid, who shared the room with the newborn son Thomas Humphrey (b. 9.1.1906). The sides of the cabinets facing the room thus act as pillars to similar architectural elements.
It is not self-evident that as part of the concept for the Stonborough apartment Hoffmann should design the nursery and nursemaid’s room, or Koloman Moser the kitchen and cook’s room, in addition to the prestigious rooms. The furnishing of ancillary rooms such as kitchen and servants’ quarters first became an artistic issue in Vienna as of the late 1890s. This was associated with the social dimension of the Arts & Crafts movement, which placed the dignity and joy of work at its centre.

In his design for these cabinets, Hoffmann quite deliberately alludes to their architectural function in the interior space. He makes them communicate with the space in an upward direction by setting a subtle artistic signal on their fronts to indicate this direction. The eye-catching front framing has round-profiled double and even triple borders, with the exception of the top horizontal, which is kept single. So the cabinets are on the one hand distinctly oriented towards the front, but simultaneously leading the eye upwards. This creates an ambiguity typical of Hoffmann, conjured up by the simultaneous use of contradictory elements of information as clarification of this very ambiguity. In the individual resolution of these visual contradictions the user is given the potential of taking on an active role as an observer. The beholder encounters this same artistic ploy in the front view of the cabinets. The three-dimensionality required by their function as repository furniture is diverted into a two-dimensional plane by contour framing, which is confined to the front. This and the receding base give the impression that an autonomous plane screens the corpus. However, the compartment at the top usually integrated into the cabinet interior by means of the two doors creates a sense of depth and underlines yet again the cabinet’s three-dimensionality. At the same time, it also opens up communication with the rest of the room. As a contrast to the bright, white exterior Hoffmann juxtaposes the dark-green stained inner life of the cabinets, still preserved in its original form. The meticulous workmanship of execution for the Wiener Werkstätte is particularly manifest in the equal attention given to the front and back – a consequence, too, of designing the cabinets to stand free in the room.

Date: 1905

Period: 20th century

Origin: Berlin

Medium: White lacquered wood

Dimension: 180 x 90 x 47 cm (70⁷/₈ x 35³/₈ x 18¹/₂ inches)

Literature: - Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, n°XVII, 1905-1906, p.154.
- Eduard Sekler; Josef Hoffmann. The Architectural Work; Princeton 1985, p. 292
- Christian Witt-Dörring; Josef Hoffmann. Interiors 1902-1913; Munich, Berlin, London, New York 2006, p. 196

Archival sources: MAK; WWF 102-77

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Yves Macaux

20th Century Decorative Art

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