At the turn of the century around the year 1900 the city of Vienna was, next to Paris, one of Europe’s leading cultural centres. This was due to the rise of the middle classes, who were in the process of emancipating themselves from the model provided by the aristocracy and were searching for ways in which they could express themselves individually in art, architecture and music. Against this background the members of the artists’ association ‘Secession’ and Vienna’s Kunstgewerbeschule, the college of arts and crafts, founded the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop) in 1903. This became a brand in itself and developed into a company which marketed not just furniture and small articles of everyday use made of glass, ceramics, silver and metal, but also jewellery and clothing – in line with the spirit of art as a holistic concept. The most famous example is Josef Hoffmann’s Palais Stoclet (1905-1911) in Brussels, which was entirely furnished with objects from the Wiener Werkstätte. It shows to perfection the well-publicised turning away from art nouveau forms in favour of geometric-abstract principles of design which set the direction for the modernism of the twentieth century.
For a time the products of the Wiener Werkstätte enjoyed tremendous commercial success, which led to the establishment of sales outlets in Karlsbad, Marienbad, Zurich, New York and Berlin. Many of the best-known artists and architects of this period created works for the Werkstätte, including names such as Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Egon Schiele, Josef Hoffmann, Dagobert Peche, Otto Prutscher, Koloman Moser, Ernst Lichtblau and Josef Frank.