A rare silver flower basket by Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann is coming up for sale in the 20th Century Design Sale on 17th October with an estimate of £7,000-10,000 (plus buyer’s premium). The vase, which was designed in 1905 and is model S661, is thought to be one of only 296 produced. A similar model was produced in white painted iron, and example of which is held in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956) was an Austrian architect, designer and a leading light of Modernism. A founding member of both the Vienna Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte, Hoffmann influenced European design for generations.
Born in Moravia, Hoffmann went on to study architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he was exposed to the theories of functional, modernist architecture. After a period of travel, Hoffmann established himself as an architect and in 1897 co-founded the Vienna Secession, an avant-garde group of artists and architects who created their own variant of the Art Nouveau Movement.
At this time Hoffmann’s architecture and design reflected the Secession’s pre-occupation with curvilinear and organic motifs, however he stripped his work of excess ornament to create harmony through simplicity.
In 1903 Hoffmann founded, alongside Koloman Moser, the Wiener Werkstätte, a company of designers, artists and craftsmen working together to produce luxury goods in cutting edge style. The group celebrated the role of the craftsman and strove to elevate the decorative arts to the same status as the fine arts. The Wiener Werkstätte produced all the elements to create a unified work of art in one building from the architecture to furniture, textiles, glass and metalwork.
It was at this time that Hoffmann’s style changed; he began basing his designs on geometry, stripping back ornament yet further and favouring black and white surfaces. His designs revolved around squares and cubes, so much so that he was given the nickname Quadratl-Hoffmann or Square Hoffmann. He later explained their use saying: “these forms, intelligible to everyone, had never appeared in previous styles”.
Hoffmann designed a wide range of objects for the Wiener Werkstätte from furniture to textiles, however, his metalwork pieces were the most numerous. Architectural work was overshadowed in later years. Indeed, there are approximately 500 recorded architectural commissions by Hoffmann, but over 5,000 design drawings in the collection of the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts. He designed both unique or limited-edition pieces and for mass-production, and some of his designs remain in production today.
Josef Hoffmann sought to achieve excellence and artistry in everything he made, simplifying and rationalising design with extraordinary clarity of vision.
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