Spotlight On the Collection: September 2016

/ Spotlight on the Collection

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Wine Goblet, About 1907, Designed by Otto Prutscher, Austrian (1880-1949) Produced by Meyr’s Neffe (Adolfshütte) Retailed by E. Bakalowitz Söhne, Vienna Adolf, Austria (today Adolfov, Czech Republic) Mold-blown clear glass with overlaid colored glass, cut, Museum purchase 2005.17

During the early part of the 20th century in German-speaking Europe, artists and designers sought to reconcile centuries-old craft traditions with the demands of large-scale industry. Stylistic issues were a concern, but so was the notion that an object had to be both beautiful and true to the materials from which it was made. It also had to be functional.

This goblet is typical of the austere modernist style of the Viennese Secession, a group of young artists and architects who seceded from the Conservative Art Academy in Vienna in 1897. Artists affiliated with this organization were true ornamentalists with a wonderfully distinctive design vocabulary and a preference for architectonic decoration that lay flat on the surface of the object.

Otto Prutscher trained in Vienna as an architect and designer. He worked closely with the avant-garde architect Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956), a leader in design at the turn of the 20th century. It was the aim of the Viennese Secession to unite the fine arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture with the decorative, or applied, arts, and a natural outcome was the establishment of a workshop where designers, artists, and craftsmen could work together to produce and manufacture objects of exceptional quality. The Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops) was founded in 1903 by Hoffmann and artist Koloman Moser (1868-1918). The two were inspired by the English Guild of Handicraft, established in London in 1888, which sought to bring good design to the mass market. Yet, Hoffmann and Moser decided to concentrate instead on bringing good design to an affluent clientele. The result was the production of a range of luxury objects in different materials, including glass, wood, metal, ceramics, and textiles.

The Wiener Werkstätte became an experiment in the development of the modern style. It remained a success into the 1920s and was finally closed in 1932. While the Viennese Secession still exists today, it has not played a significant role in the decorative arts since the 1920s.