18 Jun 2011 - 09 Oct 2011
180 St Kilda Road
The Viennese Secession's aim to unite the fine arts of painting, sculpture and architecture with the applied arts, and treat them of equal value, found its logical conclusion in the formation of a cooperative where designers and craftsmen could work as equals, produce and manufacture items – often on commission – and develop a loyal clientele.
In 1903, two of the founding members of the Vienna Secession, architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and artist and designer Koloman Moser, with financial support from the Jewish textile industrialist Fritz Wärndorfer, set up a production cooperative of craftsmen called the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop).
The Wiener Werkstätte was inspired by the English designer Charles Robert Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft, an association of craftsmen and designers established in London in 1888, which was based on socio-economic considerations. In creating their own cooperative, Hoffmann and Moser aimed to establish an infrastructure that allowed them to execute their designs without an intermediary, in direct contact with the craftsmen, in an exceptionally creative and experimental atmosphere.
Many workshops from this period, such as those in England, aimed to bring the best of traditional workmanship to a mass market. The Wiener Werkstätte concentrated on good design for a more affluent clientele. Hoffman said, 'Since it is not possible to work for the whole market, we will concentrate on those who can afford it.'
Designs for the Wiener Werkstätte were produced across a range of materials including wood, glass, metal, ceramics and textiles. Artisans worked with designers to produce work that embodied the qualities of good design and excellent craftsmanship, using the best materials.
The Wiener Werkstätte became a testing ground for the development of the so-called 'modern' style. Based on the Secession's ideal of the unity of the arts, the Wiener Werkstätte played a decisive role in the refinement and stylistic development of the interior space as a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), an approach to modern living and decoration that parallels contemporary notions of 'lifestyle', though in a more doctrinaire manner.
Under the leadership of Hoffmann, the Wiener Werkstätte was responsible for the design of two major buildings: the Sanatorium at Purkersdorf near Vienna and the Palais Stoclet in Brussels. Gustav Klimt designed the mosaic frieze for the dining room of the Palais Stoclet.
In the ensuing years, many designers and craftsmen, trained at the School of Arts and Crafts in Vienna, followed their teachers Hoffmann and Moser across to the new enterprise which operated until 1932.