From Art Nouveau to Modernism
A Rare Hair Comb from Wiener Werkstätte
Josef Hoffmann is one of the most central figures in early twentieth century design and was part of the founding of both the Vienna Secession movement in 1897 and Wiener Werkstätte in 1903—effectively bridging the transition from late nineteenth century decorative movements to the rigors and clarity of modernism. The Secessionists advocated that the applied arts be put on equal footing as the fine arts and put forth the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk—wherein the clothes and jewelry you wore, the house you lived in and the plate you ate from culminated in a total aesthetic perspective.
Wiener Werkstätte, formed from a rift in the Secessionist movement, created all matters of exquisitely crafted wares, with their jewelry being the most emblematic of the radical emerging sensibilities—instead of value being tied to materials, it was in the artisanship and uniqueness of each piece. The present lot is a superb record of this transitional era in design and in Hoffmann’s career; his most well-known jewelry is his colorful, structured brooches that recall ornamental façades and the paintings of his close friend and collaborator, Gustav Klimt.
This comb is exceptionally rare, as it does not use the square format Hoffmann preferred and instead is a sensuous, elegant free-form work that uses the flowing, organic design elements of Art Nouveau. At the same time, the restricted color palette of white and silver points to Hoffmann’s shift toward modernism, which also began appearing in his architecture—most notably in his greatest work, the Palais Stoclet (1905-1911). The present work, in both its lushness and refinement, embodies the aesthetic and ideological shifts in the studio jewelry and design movements at large in the twentieth century.
The work of the art craftsman is to be measured by the same yardstick as that of the painter and the sculptor…As long as our cities, our houses, our rooms, our cupboards, our everyday appliances, our clothes, our jewels, as long as our language and feelings do not represent the spirit of our age in a purer, simpler and more beautiful way, we shall remain infinitely backward compared to our ancestors.
Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, 1905