Austrian designer, Josef Hoffmann, was born in 1870 in Brtnice, a cluster of tiny villages in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire—and which today lies within The Czech Republic. Though he is most closely associated with Vienna—where he developed the Viennese Secession and was a founding father of the Wiener Werkstätte—Hoffmann’s influence reached far beyond Vienna and far beyond his lifetime.
After studying at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (where he graduated with the coveted Prix de Rome in 1895), Hoffmann joined fellow artists Joseph Maria Olbrich, Gustav Klimt, and Koloman Moser and together they founded the Vienna Secession. Like other Art Nouveau movements in Europe and America, the artists encouraged a shift away from the prevailing 19th Century design and promoted the restoration of handcraft. They also sought to foster a “cross pollination” amongst various artistic disciplines like painting, metalwork, architecture, glass-blowing, and jewelry-making. The Secession sponsored exhibitions and promoted each artist’s work until “creative differences” drove Hoffmann and Moser away in 1905.
The two men founded the Wiener Werkstätte, an urban “artists’ colony” of sorts, which housed various workshops specializing in ceramics, glassware, metalwork, leather craft, jewelry-making, painting, bookbinding and the graphic arts. The enterprise proved successful—what began as a small, three-room endeavor soon grew to fill a three-storey building. Works of the Wiener Werkstätte can be found in museums around the world including the Museum of Modern Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, both in New York.
Hoffmann would also design special projects, like monuments or buildings, and he was sometimes hired by outside craft manufacturers to design items for their production. Such was the case with Moser glass, as illustrated by the crystal decanter, pictured above. Moser is located in Karlovy Vary (once called “Karlsbad”) 80 miles west of Prague. It is one of the premier glass makers in Bohemia, if not all of Europe.
Hoffmann’s works exerted great influence on design to follow, especially in the discipline of Twentieth Century architecture. Bauhaus and much of Modernist architecture is rooted in Hoffmann’s inspiration. This was readily acknowledge by early Modernist masters including Le Corbusier, Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa, and Alvar Aalto. Hoffmann died in Vienna in 1956 and is buried in Brtnice in a tomb designed by his son.
The decanter pictured above, designed by Josef Hoffmann and crafted by Moser of hand-cut, smoked crystal.