Adolf Loos was one of the great progenitors of twentieth-century modernism. Contrary to other leading Viennese architects and designers of the time, Loos advocated for less determinist living spaces and did not subscribe to the prevailing approach of the totally designed interior in which every detail was prescribed by the architect. For Loos an interior should reflect the tastes of the individual and be comfortable and adaptable. Function was important, hence ornament was kept to a minimum. Loos also had a deep concern for the appropriate use of materials and employed a limited palette including brick, timber, brass and marble, reflecting his respect for their natural beauty. Loos’s interiors, whether public or private, conveyed a comfortable, refined modernism.
The National Gallery of Victoria holds one of the most extensive collections of Loos’s furniture design from a single commission – the contents of the Viennese apartment of Jakob and Melanie Langer at 1 Lobkowitzplatz, designed in 1903. It belongs to the early years of Loos’s interior design work and, although there are no photographs of the apartment’s interiors, the furniture bears close resemblance to works in the Turnovsky apartment of c. 1912, photographs of which reveal an example of this table lamp which was placed on the room divider in the herrenzimmer, or study.
Table lamp, c. 1900, is a supreme example of the understated sophistication that characterises Loos’s early interiors. Its robust yet elegant design is largely unadorned. With the exception of the fringing, the only ornamentation is the hammered pattern over the shade that subtly enlivens the large expanse of brass. The exceptionally large scale of the shade is notable and undoubtedly reflects Loos’s interest in functionalism, the lamp throwing a generous spread of light. The lamp has received little interference over the years, something that is rare for a functional object. The silk fringing is original and displays evidence of having been dyed to produce a subtle mottling of green and gold colours that beautifully complement the brass. The shade has been hand beaten to shape and finished with a decorative punched pattern – one of Loos’s few concessions to ornament. Of importance, the brass has not been overly polished over the years, something which is preferable given that Loos’s aesthetic in this regard is not well understood. Despite his prolific writings across a broad range of subjects on architecture and design, Loos never discussed lighting design.
Loos designed a number of variants to this model, in both copper and brass and some with gathered cloth as well as silk fringes. Interestingly, the silk fringe colour on copper examples also appears to complement the metal tone. Some examples also have a traditional hand beaten treatment to their shade, making reference to Loos’s concern for craftsmanship and truth to materials. The lamp comes from the collection of an old Viennese family, in which it has remained for three generations, and makes a highly important addition to the Gallery’s internationally renowned holdings of Viennese modernism.
Amanda Dunsmore, Senior Curator, International Decorative Arts and Antiquities, National Gallery of Victoria