When I think of vintage Viennese design, I immediately think of Josef Hoffman and the Jugenstil and Secessionist Movements that flourished in Vienna during the opening years of the twentieth century. To me – while certainly an era of creative and inspired design – they are artistic movements that bridged the traditional past and helped launch the Art Deco and Moderne movements.
But Hoffman is not the only designer. Just when I thought I knew the players, an auction catalogue from Dorotheum arrives at my office and has me thinking about another Viennese designer – Otto Prutscher. I knew Prutscher as the designer of an amazing silver water pitcher I wrote about last year but that was about it. Little did I know of his extensive creative output.
Otto Prutscher (1880-1949) was an Austrian architect and designer. Like many of his contemporaries in Vienna, Prutscher worked to design whole environments – from designing the initial building to its furniture and decorative objects. As a student of Josef Hoffman, one can clearly see the Secessionist influence in his early works. Strong geometric patterns became integral to his furniture and decorative arts, especially his glass stemware.
Representative of classical vintage Viennese design from the Jugenstil is the cabinet on stand above exhibited at the Vienna Kunstschau in 1909. The wood frame is covered in black buckskin and embossed in gold and geometric patterns. This is a very luxurious piece of furniture. It looks like the type of piece Gustav Klimt would have used as the backdrop in one of his fabulous paintings. While clearly of the period, it would look perfect in a contemporary home amongst modern furnishings. The hanging drum light (above) is another example from Prutscher’s early work. Great design can always act as a focal point in a room.
Another early piece is this little silver covered box designed by Prutscher for the Wiener Werkstatte. Sleek and simple, its elegance is in the subtle wave of the body coupled with the ivory finial and ball feet. Prutscher designed furniture, textiles, jewelry, ceramics, silver and glass for some of Austria’s top firms including Thonet and Lobmeyr among others. He sought to blur the lines between art and object creating beautiful pieces to fill the rooms of his client’s homes.
Prutscher’s work from the 1930s and 1940s shows just how attuned he was to the changes in European design. This macassar cabinet (main image and above) is a gem of art deco vintage Viennese design. The figured wood creates a luscious, rich depth while the stepped form mixed with soft rounded edges provides a strong visual presence. The interior is also beautifully finished with an interesting arrangement of drawers. This cabinet easily bridges both traditional and contemporary décor, as does the pair of chairs.
The chairs scream deco to me with their graceful curves and glossy black lacquer. The fluting on the front legs and arms and the delicate scroll on the pierced backs are just the perfect amount of ornament. Vintage Viennese design at its very best.
Richard Rabel is a New York Interior Designer and Principal at Richard Rabel: Interiors+ Art, a studio offering residential design, decorating and art advising.
image credits: vintage viennese design: Dorotheum, Vienna