Wiener Werkstätte and the Stoclet Palace

Wiener Werkstätte and the Stoclet Palace

In 1903, the architect Josef Hoffmann and the painter and decorator Koloman Moser found the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), an extension of the secessionist movement. The group is an association of artists and artisans whose goals are threefold: eradicate the divide between art and artisan, bolster the commercial visibility of high-quality artisanal designs to contend with industrial products as well as improve working conditions for the artisan and finally, create total works of art by beautifully combining architecture, painting, furniture, ornaments, jewellery and clothes to improve the quality of life of their users. The Workshop’s activities expand rapidly, leading them to open several shops and participate in numerous international exhibitions.

Without ever officially joining, Klimt is quite active in the workshop, particularly since leaving the Secession in 1905 along with various other members, due to internal differences. United again under Klimt’s leadership, the dissident members refocus on their initial aspirations. The painter collaborates on numerous occasions with the Wiener Werkstätte to create, among other things, fabrics and furnishings. Some might even say that the Workshop have Klimt to thank for developing their style.

The Workshop’s most significant achievement is the Stoclet Palace in Brussels. It is, in its essence, a masterpiece of the secessionist style and a first-class example of the concept of Gesamtkunstwerk.

In 1904, Josef Hoffmann is contracted to build the home of Adolphe Stoclet, a rich Belgian financier. Construction starts in 1905 and takes six years to complete. Collaborating with other members of the Workshop, Hoffman designs the architecture and furniture. Klimt also works cooperatively with them to conceive a mosaic frieze, comprising five grand marble plaques, intended to adorn the dining room.

The Tree of Life is divided into three parts: Expectation (or The Dancer), Fulfilment (or The Embrace) and The Knight. Klimt draws on inspiration from Asian, Egyptian, Byzantine, Indian and Buddhist art. Brimming with symbolism, the piece is a masterpiece of Klimt’s Golden Phase.

Materials including ceramic, glass, metal, enamel, as well as mother of pearl, coral and even some semi-precious stones combine on the plaques, an endeavour which requires collaboration with other workshops and input from the metal workers and goldsmiths within the Wiener Werkstätte. The attention to detail is meticulous, even the jewellery worn by the dancer is an authentic replica of jewellery made by the Workshop. Never before has such a feat been accomplished. Its installation takes a year and a half and comes at the astronomical cost of 100,000 Kronen.