The early 1900s was a period of continued experimentation in chair design. Innovative designers and architects, such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Scotland and Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann in Austria, strove to apply the geometric forms and monochrome palette favoured by the fledgeling modern movement to furniture and domestic objects. Made by hand in small quantities, their chairs were mostly bought by wealthy bohemians, except for occasional special commissions for public buildings such as Glasgow tea rooms and Viennese coffee houses.
High-backed chair for the Ingram Street Tea Rooms, 1900
Among the earliest and most eloquent exponents of a modern spirit in British design was the Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928). By fusing the influence of traditional Celtic craftsmanship with the purity of Japanese aesthetics, Mackintosh defined a distinctive and highly refined design style on the cusp of Art Nouveau, the Arts and Crafts Movement and central European Secessionism. One of his most enduring clients was Miss Cranston, who owned a chain of tea rooms in Glasgow and asked Mackintosh to design them. He designed the stark, geometric form of this high-backed chair to contrast boldly with the white walls of the ladies’ luncheon room in the Ingram Street tea room.
Armchair for the Purkersdorf Sanatorium, 1902
As a designer of both graphics and furniture, Koloman Moser (1868-1918) favoured the geometric motifs and monochrome palette which were to typify the work of the Wiener Werkstätte, the influential craft workshops that he founded in Vienna with the architect Josef Hoffmann in 1903. This armchair, which was considered as audacious in style by the Austrians of the early 1900s as Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s angular furniture was by his fellow Scots, was originally designed for use in the foyer of the Purkersdorf Sanatorium of which Hoffmann was the architect. At the sanatorium, Moser’s armchairs were arranged in pairs around elegant octagonal tables.
Cabaret Fledermaus Chair, 1905-1906
On a visit to England to research the Arts and Crafts Movement in 1902, Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956) befriended the Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh and was impressed by the bold, geometric style of his furniture. Mackintosh’s influence is readily apparent in the fine structure and clean lines of this beech chair that Hoffmann designed for the Cabaret Fledermaus in Vienna. Hoffmann designed every element of the cabaret which he conceived as 'a total work of art.' A critic of the time described it as being: 'wonderful – the proportions, the light atmosphere, cheerful flowing lines, elegant light fixtures, comfortable chairs of new shape and, finally, the whole tasteful ensemble. Genuine Hoffmann.'
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