Inventive Vienna in the Biedermeier Era

November 9 2011, 4:49pm

Carlton Hobbs LLC.

This set of four side chairs is an example of the typically “modern” inventive Viennese design of the early 19th century. They are constructed in the Biedermeier style, characteristic for its simplistic lines, minimalist design, and light-colored woods, which originated as an antidote to the pompous and ornate designs of the Empire style in France. The label “Biedermeier” comes from the name Gottlieb Biedermeier, a fictional character in the works of Ludwig Eichrodt who symbolized the German bourgeoisie, and which was applied to the period from the end of the 19th century. Figure 1: Viennese Biedermeier side chair with related splayed legs and circular seat. “Viennese furniture worked itself up into a euphoria of curves and an increasing delicacy of construction that, in the end, gave an effect of fragility. These exquisite, aristocratic objects were an inspiration to the craftsmen of the Biedermeier era: they stimulated delight in the experimental treatment of the wood and gave rise…to a quite specific blend of styles.” A wealth of variations in seating types and shapes resulted in hundreds of different designs during the this period.  In 1827, cabinetmakers registered over 900 designs with the inland-revenue office. Figure 2: Detail from Johann Christian Schoeller’s 1837 engraving The Passion for Newspapers, depicting seat furniture with circular seats and backs, and splayed legs. The present chairs are distinguished by their splayed legs, along with the combination of both circular seats and backrests. A chair in the Hofmobiliendepot, Vienna provides an example of a Biedermeier chair with similar seat and legs (figure 1). The solid round chair back, enhanced with concentric inlaid decoration, is an unusual conceit, attesting to the countless innovations in design. An engraving by Johann Christian Schoeller, entitled The Passion for Newspapers (1837), depicts a Viennese café in which the furniture, although upholstered, is markedly similar in construction, sharing the round back and seats as well as the splayed legs (figure 2).