Various institutions left their mark on the history of art and design. The Wiener Werkstätte community of artisans, artists, and designers, for example, played an important role in the cultural (r)evolution around 1900 in Vienna.
- Pioneers in merging art, design and utility in numerous aspects of daily life
- Associated with many top names (Hoffman, Moser, Klimt and others)
- Products covered everything from coffee cups to palace interiors
- See also:
What was the Wiener Werkstätte?
(Silver fork by the Wiener Werkstätte; photo courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
A note in the official Wiener Zeitung newspaper announced the formation of the Wiener Werkstätte on May 12th, 1903, describing it as (my translation) a…
…producer cooperative of artisans in Vienna.
Indeed, an accurate translation of the name into English is Viennese Workshop (or Vienna Workshop).
This artisan enterprise and community sought to design, make (or commission), and sell products based on particular criteria, namely:
- High-quality materials
- A combination of practicality and artistic quality (following the idea that art has a place everywhere)
(Stem glass from the Wiener Werkstätte, around 1923; Wien Museum Inv.-Nr. 53703, excerpt reproduced under the terms of the CC BY 4.0 license; photo by Birgit and Peter Kainz)
Their remit covered numerous areas, including jewelry, ceramics, furniture, textiles, glassware, posters, postcards, and more.
The Wiener Werkstätte essentially snubbed its nose at the growth of industrialisation in manufacturing. It also moved firmly away from historicism; the prevailing admiration for (and devotion to) past styles and design approaches.
The enterprise and brand enjoyed international success but eventually fell victim to the vagaries of history and economics: the global depression saw the Wiener Werkstätte close its doors for good in 1932.
Why is it important?
(Postcard of Belvedere by Urban Janke from 1908, published by the Wiener Werkstätte; Photo courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
In a local sense, the Wiener Werkstätte formed one cornerstone of the wider Wiener Moderne movement: the astonishing period of artistic and intellectual creativity and evolution across multiple fields in Vienna that gave rise to all those exhibits you now see in museums across the globe.
In an international sense, the work of the Wiener Werkstätte also influenced the broader artisan and design world and undoubtedly helped with the emergence of such movements as Germany’s Bauhaus.
The Werkstätte founders also included two great names in art history, namely architect (and designer) Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956) and painter (and designer) Koloman Moser (1868-1918). The third co-founder was the industrialist Fritz Waerndorfer (1868–1939).
Part of Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser’s enduring reputation derives from their involvement with the enterprise (and the numerous items they designed for it).
Many other famous names in the design and art world also found themselves working for the Wiener Werkstätte at times. For example:
- Gustav Klimt produced a mosaic frieze for the interior design of Palais Stoclet in Brussels
- Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele designed postcards
Dozens of designers and artists became involved at one time or another, including numerous women (the subject of a 2021 exhibition at Vienna’s MAK museum).
Where to learn more
(MAK Permanent Collection Vienna 1900: Design / Arts and Crafts 1890–1938
© MAK/Georg Mayer)
The main way to explore the works and importance of the Wiener Werkstätte is to visit those museums with an emphasis on the same time period. Two in particular stand out.
- The MAK museum: the permanent displays contain many items from the hands of Werkstätte artisans and designers. This includes a specific Wiener Werkstätte showcase in the Wien 1900 permanent exhibition.
The MAK actually owns the archives of the Werkstätte (preliminary sketches and drafts, posters, books, letters and similar).
- The Leopold Museum: the permanent exhibition on Vienna around 1900 also covers the work and influence of the Wiener Werkstätte. In particular, they have a rather beautiful gallery that presents examples of tableware, jewelry, glassware and similar.
(Josef Hoffmann, design for: J. & L. Lobmeyr Parts of the drink sets “Serie B” und “Schwarzbronzit Var. F”, from around 1911 © Ernst Ploil, Wien Photo: Leopold Museum, Wien/ Manfred Thumberger)
The last time I visited the Augarten porcelain museum, the display included examples demonstrating the influence of Wiener Werkstätte visual design concepts.
Augarten still sell, for example, the classic Melone espresso cup and saucer designed by Hoffmann.
The Werkstätte tradition of combining aesthetics, utility and quality materials also continues in many of today’s local arts and crafts enterprises.
Take a peek, for example, at some of the businesses under the Wien Products umbrella. Or the Österreichischen Werkstätten (English: Austrian Workshops), who emerged as a natural successor to the Wiener Werkstätte and were actually founded by Josef Hoffmann in 1948.