Decorative Arts

Wiener Werkstätte

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).

Charles Robert ASHBEE (designer)
England 1863–1942
GUILD OF HANDICRAFT, London (manufacturer)
England 1888–1908
Standing cup and cover 1901
silver, turquoise
(a-b) 16.7 x 11.6 cm diameter (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006 (2006.485.a-b)

English inspiration

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.

Josef HOFFMANN (designer)
Austria-Hungary 1870–1956
WÜRBEL & CZOKALLY (CARL WÜRBEL), Vienna (manufacturer)
Austria-Hungary 1892–1913
VINZENZ MAYER’S SÖHNE, Vienna (retailer)
Austria-Hungary 1810–1922
Sports trophy 1902
silver, gilt, malachite
26.0 x 7.1 cm diameter
Private collection
© Josef Hoffmann Estate

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.'

Modern style

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.

Koloman MOSER (designer)
Austria-Hungary 1868–1918
WIENER WERKSTÄTTE, Vienna (manufacturer)
Austria-Hungary 1903–32
Adolf WERTNIK (silversmith)
Austria-Hungary active 1903–10
Jardiniere (Model no. M 18) 1903
silver plated alpaca
12.8 x 26.6 x 11.2 cm
Ernst Ploil Collection

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.

Koloman MOSER (designer)
Austria-Hungary 1868-1918
WIENER WERKSTÄTTE, Vienna (manufacturer)
Austria-Hungary 1903-32
Flower basket (Model no. S 781) 1906
21.3 x 7.2 x 4.3 cm
Asenbaum Collection

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.

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria