Archive for Adolf Loos

Dagobert Peche, Genius of Ornament

Posted in Ceramics, Christine Cariati, Fine & Decorative Arts, Furniture, Jewelry, Textiles, Wallpaper, XC with tags , , , , on July 28, 2009 by Christine Cariati

by Christine Cariati

Dagobert PechePortrait of Dagobert Peche, c.1920

Dagobert Peche (1887-1923) was a brilliant, versatile and eclectic designer who, in fewer than 10 years with the Wiener Werkstätte, created more than 3000 decorative objects of great beauty, energy and imagination that were full of movement, light and playfulness. Peche’s decorative objects were wonders of linear grace and inventiveness; his jewelry designs were exquisite miniature sculptures; and his textile and wallpaper designs, with their extraordinary radiant color and pattern, are perhaps his greatest legacy.

Dagobert Peche—DeerDagobert Peche, Jewel Box, 1920

Josef Hoffmann, the founder, along with Koloman Moser, of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903, said upon Peche’s premature death at the age of 36:

Dagobert Peche was the greatest ornamental genius Austria has produced since the Baroque Age…All of Germany has arrived at a new stylistic epoch thanks to Peche’s patterns.

Dagobert Peche—Schwalbenschwantz, fabric, 1911/13Dagobert Peche, Schwalbenschwantz, fabric, 1911/13

Josef Hoffman and Kolo Moser, who both taught at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Art), founded the Wiener Werkstätte in Vienna in 1903. They were influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement in England and inspired by their work in establishing a creative interaction of art, design and craftsmanship. Hoffman and Moser published a brochure outlining this philosophy of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) in 1905:

The limitless harm done in the arts and crafts field by low-quality mass production on the one hand and by the unthinking imitation of old styles on the other is affecting the whole world like some giant flood…It would be madness to swim against this tide. Nevertheless, we have founded our workshop…
We seek to establish close contact between the public, designer and craftsman, and to create a good and simple household object. We start with function, usefulness is our first requirement. Our strength lies in good proportions and proper use of materials. Where possible, we shall attempt to be decorative, but not compulsively so and not at any cost. The value of artistic work and its design needs to be acknowledged and appreciated once more. The work of craftsman is to be held to the same standard as that of the painter and sculptor. We cannot and will not compete with cheapness; it is mainly achieved at the expense of the worker, and we feel that recapturing for him the joy of creation and a humane existence is our foremost obligation…

They did not want to rely on overly expensive materials, especially in their jewelry, so they used a lot of silver, gilt, enamel, and semi-precious stones—but no diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

Josef Hoffmann—BroochJosef Hoffmann, Brooch, 1910

Initially, the aesthetic of the Wiener Werkstätte and Josef Hoffmann was one of simplicity, clarity of shape (often square), and a strict adherence to form. When Peche joined the Wiener Werkstätte, his more fluid, ornamental style began to dominate.

Josef HoffmanJosef Hoffmann, seated in a chair of his own design, c.1890

Josef Hoffmann—cigarette caseJosef Hoffmann, Cigarette case, 1912

Josef Hoffmann—Pot
Josef Hoffmann, Pot, porcelain, c.1905

Josef Hoffmann—Spoon
Josef Hoffmann, Serving spoon,c.1905

Dagobert Peche was born in Lungau, Austria in 1887. He wanted to be a painter, but his older brother Ernst claimed that role, so Dagobert went to Vienna in 1906 and trained as an architect at the Technische Hochschule. In 1911, at a banquet honoring Austrian architect Otto Wagner on his seventieth birthday, he met Josef Hoffmann. Peche did freelance textile design for the Wiener Werskätte from 1912 to 1915, when Hoffmann invited him to become a full member. In 1917, after a brief, unsuccessful stint in the  army, Peche moved to Zürich to take charge of the new Wiener Werkstätte branch there.

Wiener Werkstatte, ZurichWiener Werkstätte shop, Zurich, 1917

Peche had gone to secondary school in Stüttgart where became interested in Baroque and Rococo design. He also greatly admired the work of Aubrey Beardsley and was passionate about ornamentation. To Peche’s credit, he incurred the wrath of Adolf Loos by gilding the apples on a tree with gold leaf—unable to see the beauty or humor, Loos fumed that Peche had destroyed a whole year’s crop. In his polemic, Ornament and Crime, written in 1908, Loos wrote that “ornamentation was a grotesque relic of humanity’s unwholesome past.”

Dagobert Peche—Box in the Shape of an Apple, c.1920Dagobert Peche, Box in the Shape of an Apple, c.1920

For the Wiener Werkstätte, Peche designed metalwork, ceramics, mirror frames, glass, textiles, wallpaper, furniture, books and jewelry.

Dagobert Peche—ChairDagobert Peche, Boudoir Chair for an Elegant Lady, 1912

Dagobert Peche—Tea CaddyDagobert Peche, Tea Caddy, 1916

In all these pieces there is a quality of lightness, and a painterly, romantic touch. He integrated ornamentation into his designs, and often camouflaged the object’s function. He was pushing the limits of the Wiener Werkstatte’s philosophy of utilitarian design, but he justified it this way:

It is simply the product of art imposed on craftsmanship. The art enlivens the elements and branches of the craft in which the object to be created requires a certain look. Essentially, all of these are art objects, simply not fine art, for they generally have a function as well.

Dagobert Peche—Bird-shaped Candy BoxDagobert Peche, Bird-shaped Candy Box, 1920

Dagobert Peche—VaseDagobert Peche, Vase, c.1912

Dagobert Peche—Brooch
Dagobert Peche, Brooch, Zurich, c.1917-19

Dagobert Peche—fabric designDagobert Peche, Diomedes, fabric design, 1919

Dagobert Peche—Wallpaper designDagobert Peche, Wundervogel, wallpaper design, c.1914

Unlike the British Arts & Crafts movement which hoped to create a socialist state where excellent design and craftsmanship was universally available, improving the quality of life for all, the Wiener Werkstätte did not have such a clear agenda or widespread support. There was only a small segment of artistically engaged, wealthy Austrians who appreciated their efforts—among them the artist Gustav Klimt. His portrait below is of Eugenie Primavesi who, with her industrialist husband Otto, and cousin Robert, acquired a significant financial stake in the Wiener Werkstätte in 1914.

Gustav Klimt—Portrait of Eugenie PrimavesiGustav Klimt, Portrait of Eugenie Primavesi, c.1913-14

The Wiener Werkstätte closed in 1932. In future posts, Venetian Red will delve more deeply into the exquisite textiles produced by the Wiener Werkstätte and the interesting people, many of them women, who designed them. We can only imagine what amazing things Dagobert Peche would have designed if his life had not been cut short by a tumor misdiagnosed as TB. Toward the end of his life, Peche became nervous and solitary, and, frustrated with designing only for the wealthy, longed to create beautiful design that could be enjoyed by all.

To see many more examples of Peche’s designs and sketches, I highly recommend Dagobert Peche and the Wiener Werkstätte, Yale University Press, published with the Neue Galerie, New York.

Dagobert Peche—PosterDagobert Peche, Poster for Wiener Werkstätte Fashions, c.1919

A Question of Ornament: Owen Jones & Adolf Loos

Posted in Architecture, Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Textiles with tags , , , , , , , , on June 26, 2008 by Liz Hager

© Liz Hager, 2008. All Rights Reserved

Proposition 5: Construction should be decorated. Decoration should never be purposely constructed. —Owen Jones, one of 34 design propositions in The Grammar of Ornament

Ornament is a crime. —Adolf Loos.

Owen Jones, Plate XLV (detail), Persian Ornament, from The Grammar of Ornament

In the opening paragraph of his The Grammar of Ornament, first published in 1856, Owen Jones (1809-1874) makes the following claim: “From universal testimony of travellers it would appear, that there is scarcely a people, in however early a stage of civiliz ation, with whom the desire for ornament is not a strong instinct.”

In the early 20th century, architect Adolf Loos was to prove him wrong.

Trained as an architect, Jones was a key figure in the history of British design, who in addition to interiors, designed fabrics and wallpapers. In the early 1830s, on a Grand Tour of Europe,  he made a detailed survey of the ornament in the Alhambra, which he published in 1842.   He was a key participant in the Great Exhibition of 1851—this spurred him on to develop a series of style “courts;” rooms displaying different designs and furnishings, as part revamping of the Crystal Palace. Conceived as a companion piece to this project,  The Grammar of Ornament was lavishly illustrated and detailed in its analysis.  This was his manifesto—Jones abhored the mis-use of ornament through constant, but uneducated, repetition and advocated that society “get rid of the acquired and artificial…and develop natural instincts.” The book quickly became the definitive design sourcebook and with it, Jones became a highly-influential “style guru” to generations of successive architects and designers. William Morris/Arts & Crafts Movement, as well as of architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, were among his acolytes.

Adolf Loos, Looshaus, Michaelplatz 3, Vienna.

Adolf Loos (1870-1933) is remembered today most for the role he played in fin de siècle Vienna as a vigorous denouncer of ornament. He launched his controversial views in 1897 through a series of published essays, which addressed the excesses of traditional Viennese design, particularly as exercised by the Jugendstil (Austrian Art Nouveau) movement.  These theories culminated in 1908 with the publication of a short essay entitled “Ornament and Crime.” To Loos, the lack of ornament on architecture was a sign of spiritual strength, an aesthetic beauty that only those who lived on a higher level of culture would appreciate. As he expounded in the essay:  “The urge to ornament oneself and everything within reach is the ancestor of pictorial art. It is the baby talk of painting. . . the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.”

Although I could not find a reference in Loos’ writings to the Owen Jones work, he must have been familiar with it, it seems likely that it was a part of his early professional education.  Loos’ stance on ornament was like a swift current in the river that flowed from Belle Époque to Modernism. The core (i.e. architectural form) was quickly emancipated from its clothing and jewelry. Le Corbusier considered Loos’ essay as “an Homeric cleansing” of architecture.  Could the Loos manifesto have been a progenitor of the Sullivan’s enigmatic adage—”form follows function” (itself an adaptation of a line of poetry from sculptor and classicist Horatio Greenough)?  I’ll keep searching. . .

Except for the architecturally-literate, perhaps not many today could identify a Loos building, though his legacy is omnipresent in our 21st-century world. Think hard on often you see a post-1920s building with scrolls, figures, floral elements, or, for that matter,  exterior moldings, capitals and cornices, and you will understand the magnitude of acceptance for his ideas. It follows then that the tastefully neutral, textured, but pattern-less interiors, so perennially popular with contemporary designers, are also a Loos legacy, if indirectly through the example of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier.  On the other hand, our persistent desire to pattern walls, sofas and pillows (often with historically-mined material) seems to me to be an obvious link to Jones. Some of us like the ornamental, even in the midst of our minimalist world.

Thankfully I say, the two camps still happily co-exist.

The Rabbit Hole

Owen Jones
The Grammar of Ornament

Owen Jones, Textile Reformer

Adolf Loos
Ornament & Crime

Extract—Adolf Loos: The Art of Architecture by Joseph Mascheck

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