Weekend: Antiques - Viennese Pearls from Klimt

The Birmingham Post (England), January 17, 2004 | Go to article overview

Weekend: Antiques - Viennese Pearls from Klimt


Byline: Richard Edmonds

A few months ago, I spotted two unusually beautiful things during my travels around the fairs, dealers, auction rooms and private collections.

The first item was an elegant sugar sifter in porcelain, silver and pewter, with a restrained abstract design on the porcelain in leaf green and blue-grey squares. Neat, fresh and eminently desirable, this rare piece of tableware was priced at pounds 10 (although it could well have been pounds 90 in reality) and carried Vienna porcelain marks beneath the glaze.

A print came next. The story is an old one -the dealer was selling up in order to move into Europe and so the stock was heavily reduced. The print had been marked down from pounds 50 to pounds 35 and was in its original oak frame.

Upon examination this fine image of a young girl looking at a robin on a bough beneath a dark blue sky turned out (like the sugar sifter) to originate from Vienna.

Fortunately for the purchaser (and at pounds 35, but in reality you could have added a nought to that figure) the print had the Vienna Art School stamps on it. Thus, this desirable thing was immediately connected to the famous Vienna Workshops.

The dazzling things that poured out of Vienna when the Wiener Werkstatte (or workshops) were established in 1903, are discussed and presented with tantalizing illustrations in all kinds of fields in the recently published book Wonderful Wiener Werkstatte(Thames & Hudson: pounds 24.95). Here is a book that ideally should be on every serious collector's bookshelf. The moral is quite clear. It is by studying such works (published incidentally at a highly reasonable price) that one's knowledge of the treasures to be found in today's antiques fairs, markets or dealers' shops is extended.

The 'Vienna Workshops' was basically an idealistic movement created to unite the fine and applied arts with the commendable goal of creating beautifully designed and crafted objects for every purpose, from sugar sifters to national buildings.

Begun by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, the movement eventually involved hundreds of artists and craftsmen working in architecture, furniture design, tableware (the sugar sifter), metalwork, ceramics and glass, book design, poster design, carpets, jewellery, fabrics and haute couture not to mention paintings and the traditional arts. The book offers as complete a record as we are every likely to see of the group's astonishingly creative output from Hoffmann's architecture created for a building in Brussels and also the celebrated Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna, to individual objects such as enamelled-glass by Otto Prutscher along with throwaway (at the time, certainly not now) postcards in vibrant colours designed by Oskar Kokoschka, some of which were actually sent by the celebrated artist Gustav Klimt to his lover, Emilie Floge at the height of the Werkstatte movement.

The nature of Klimt's relationship in early 20th century Vienna will always remain something of a mystery. He lived with his mother all his life and was unwilling, or perhaps psychologically unable to make Emilie his wife or his mistress. In fact, there may well have been a homosexual structure within his make-up unrecognised at the time by either of them.

Yet there is no doubt that Emilie Floge had a profound influence on Klimt, inspiring many of the well known works which today grow rare in the salerooms.

The great 1902 portrait of her almost changed the way we look at beautiful women today since Klimt turned his muse into a golden icon.

When a man loves a beautiful woman he is more than likely to offer her rare and fascinating gifts. And so among the many wonderful examples of Wiener Werkstatte jewellery was a beautiful heart-shaped pendant which Klimt commissioned from Josef Hoffmann, who was part of his circle, for Emilie. …

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