Austrian Art Nouveau

Austrian jewelry had been totally under the influence of Paris until the turn of the century when parallel modernistic art movements began to produce a new and distinctive style. In his treatise on modern Austrian jewelry published in a special edition of ‘Studio’ called ‘Modern Design in Jewelry’, W. Fred in Vienna wrote: ‘Now at last, however, the liberating influence of the modern spirit is making itself felt in the art of jewelry and every ornament produced, whether in precious stones or in enamel, bears the unmistakable impress of the distinctive psychic character of our capital city (Vienna), which even foreigners do not fail to recognize.

Adding that the culture of Vienna was essentially ‘feminine’ and recalling the essence of French Art Nouveau style, W. Fred concluded: ‘The graceful and witty, yet dreamy and passionate girls and women of Vienna give to it its distinctive character’.

So long under the French influence, flowers were important in Austrian design, achieving a balance between being artistic as well as true to nature. The Viennese designer Roset and Fischmeister were experts in this realm and also noted and praises for their figural ornaments and sculptural work.

Enamels and semi-precious stones were predominantly used, color and line being the most crucial elements, except in the work of the Austrian sculptor Gustav Gurschner for whom form was the most important feature. His nude figures were described by experts to convey ‘childlike innocence and nervous strength with the addition of a spiritual expression’ which was always present.

Otto Putscher was another important Austrian designer associated with a ‘distinctive Austrian look’. He introduced more color in enamelwork than most contemporary European designers. Joseph Hoffman (1870-1956) whose name is found in all studies of Art Nouveau design, was the founder of the Wiener Werkstaette in 1903 and contributed enormously to twentieth century design. He is particularly known for distancing himself from the pure essence of Art Nouveau design and moving towards a more modern style which included the ‘rejection of superfluous ornament’. The fine pieces of jewelry designed by Hoffman were executed by the Wiener Werkstaette.

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