The curators of this imperial furniture collection acknowledge that there’s a fine line between a museum like this and a junk shop. They even play with the idea in some of the displays: there is a veritable thicket of candelabra. I was ready to giggle at the impressive line-up of imperial commodes, while readily admitting their instructive value. (Like the pisspot scene in Visconti’s The Leopard, it hits you with the smelly reality behind the displays of grace and elegance. Or, perhaps, the displays of grace and elegance distract you from the smelly reality.)
Anyway – apart from a shortcut through the courtyards of the Hofburg – this was the closest I got to the Habsburgs. There was a startling number of depictions of Franz Joseph in this museum – not surprising, given that his presence spread across the empire for almost 70 years – but I only glanced at them. History is endlessly interesting, but the things I want to see on my travels relate to people’s lives, not to kings, queens and emperors.
I was a few days too early for the exhibition of Loos, Wagner and Hoffmann furniture (which, I admit, would have been overkill; I really don’t need to see another Postsparkasse spotted stool or piece of Thonet bentwood and cane). Nevertheless, some of the early twentieth-century furniture in the permanent collection had been spared, so I roamed around a bit.
Adolf Loos is interesting. His campaign against needless ornament and the Gesamtkunstwerk is something I can sympathise with after a bit too much Secessionist bling. He argued for functionalism and aesthetic freedom, and an acknowledgement that some designs from the past (e.g. a Chippendale chair) could not be bettered. And when I see a Charles Rennie Mackintosh high-backed ladder chair, I’m inclined to agree with him. But, like Wagner, he also saw a progression in human development, leading to moral and civilised modern life*.
They must they have got a shock during WWI.
I also came across more by Dagobert Peche, the anti-Loos, whose work I had already pursed my lips at in the MAK. He took the Wiener Werkstätte in a more decorative direction after 1910 – one that I really don’t care for. His chair looks both ugly and uncomfortable.
I much prefer Josef Frank, who inclined towards Loos’s ideas. His designs look very modern and colourful – more like the 1950s. Perhaps I should have gone further out to visit the Werkbundsiedlung in Hietzing.
Another time . . .
* Subsequently, reading Stefan Zweig’s “The World of Yesterday”, I came across this:
In its liberal idealism, the nineteenth century was honestly convinced that it was on the straight and unfailing path toward being the best of all worlds. Earlier eras, with their wars, famines, and revolts, were deprecated as times when mankind was still immature and unenlightened. But now it was merely a matter of decades until the last vestige of evil and violence would finally be conquered, and this faith in an uninterrupted and irresistible “progress” truly had the force of a religion for that generation.