Josef Hoffmann


Yves Macaux

Date 1913

Period 20th century

Origin Vienna

Medium Tainted and polished walnut

Dimension 92 x 52 x 51 cm (36¹/₄ x 20¹/₂ x 20¹/₈ inches)

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

This dining-room chair was designed by Josef Hoffmann in 1913 in the course of a complete interior design concept for the apartment of Hermine and Moriz Gallia (Vienna 4, Wohllebengasse 4). The entrepreneur Moriz Gallia was one of the financially successful Jewish haute bourgeoisie of Vienna who engaged themselves culturally and financially in supporting the Secession and its artists. He had already supported the initiative of the Secession in founding a modern state collection in 1901 in his gift of Segantini's painting "The Evil Mothers" to the Moderne Galerie. In 1903/04, Gustav Klimt painted the portrait of his wife Hermine; then, in 1914, at the same time as Otto Primavesi, he became a shareholder in the Wiener Werkstätte with a capital investment of 20,000 crowns.

The dining room chair design stems from Hoffmann's mature classicist phase. It is most pronouncedly expressed in such examples of his architecture as the Villa Ast (1909-11), the Austria House at the Cologne Werkbund Exhibition (1913-14) and the Palais Skyva-Primavesi (1913-15). Typical of these years is his atectonic approach in his façades - and also his design of artefacts. Fluting, as it covers the chair legs here, is in this phase one of his most striking means of expression for structuring surfaces. One is never sure if it is to be interpreted spatially or only as a surface embellishment. In principle, the legs of the dining-room chair can be interpreted as fluted pillars, hence as architectural, spatial elements. But the fluting rises up the legs without a base, finding a horizontal ending at the top-rail by means of a narrow beaded band. Is this finishing touch enough to interpret it as a capital, thus making the leg really into a pillar? On the sides, the stability of the legs is reinforced in each by a horizontal St. Andrew's cross incorporated under the rail. This again generates a charged sense of structural irritation. It is as if they form a psychological extension of the rail, without manifesting material substance. The irritation is heightened by the fact that they are only found on the sides of a chair that is so clearly conceived in its frontality. The backrest, too, plays with the same ambivalence between tectonic strength and transparency. The two vertical St. Andrew's crosses are each finished off horizontally at their top and bottom end. Since they are not optically bracketed with the backrest frame, they seem hover unattached within it, as though they could fall out at any moment. An integral constituent of Hoffmann's design is the upholstery, the original fabric consisting of alternating light and dark stripes. Hoffmann pulls the fabric lengthwise over the seat area, but at the level of the cushion sides has the material sewn on extra in the vertical direction, thus running parallel to the direction of the legs. Hoffmann's only concession to tectonic sensibility is the strong structural accentuation gained by attaching a border along the edge of the seat. He adopted this type of border trimming from Biedermeier, the style his generation so admired and rediscovered.

Date: 1913

Period: 20th century

Origin: Vienna

Medium: Tainted and polished walnut

Dimension: 92 x 52 x 51 cm (36¹/₄ x 20¹/₂ x 20¹/₈ inches)

Literature:  Terence Lane; Vienna 1913. Josef Hoffmann’s Gallia Apartment; Melbourne 1984, p. 47 
Tobias G. Natter; Klimt und die Frauen; Cologne 2000, p. 105ff.

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Yves Macaux

20th Century Decorative Art

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