Lili Hellmann Waerndorfer (b. Vienna, 29. September 1874 - d. Nyack, California, May 1952) was an unconventional woman who deserves to be better remembered. Not so much for her enlightened art patronage as for her willingness to try new things, even in trying circumstances she could hardly have imagined in her youth. One of the first women in Austria to obtain a driver's license, Lili enjoyed racing in her car. This beautiful brooch in diamonds, opal, moonstone, and lapis lazuli was designed for her by Josef Hoffmann in 1904. and was likely worn on one of the stylish new 'reform' dresses that women like Ditha Moser, Sonja Knips, and Emilie Floge donned. Lili Hellmann married Fritz Waerndorfer in 1895; the couple had one son, Karl. Later when their fortunes were gone, Lili not only moved to a new continent but wrote and published at least one mystery novel - The End Of The Honeymoon - in 1914.
Friedrich Waerndorfer (b. Vienna, 1868 - d. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, 1939), nicknamed Fritz, was a Großindustrieller, a wealthy industrialist who also became an important art patron. The son of a successful Jewish textile manufacturer, the young Waerndorfer was sent to England in the 1880s to study the methods used in British textile factories. He also spent alot of time in London's museums and became friendly with the Scottish designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
Back in Vienna, Fritz Waerndorfer married Lili Hellmann in 1895. The pairing was unusual: Fritz was still in his twenties, a young age for a man to marry but Waerndorfer was already a succesful businessman, and Lili was only six years his junior. The conventional marital pattern for upper class Viennese was like that of the marriage of Koloman Moser, who at 34 wed the 19 year-old Editha Mautner- von Markhof.
Through the critic Hermann Bahr the Waerndorfers were introduced to members of the Vienna Secession around 1900 and when the Wiener Werkstatte was organized in 1903, the group turned to Waerndorfer to manage their finances.
The wealthy Waerndorfers already owned a home, so they commissioned Hoffmann and Moser to redecorate it in the new style. (They, along with the Wittgenstein family, were major patrons of the group, accounting for almost a quarter of its early sales.) Just inside their front door opened, the entrance hall displayed the harmonious Hoffmann style, its blend of ideal squares and parallel lines. On a pedestal there was the first of sixteen sculptures by the Belgian George Minne, a Waerndorfer favorite. Fritz Wearndorfer was the first owner of Minne's most famous work, The Fountain of Five Kneeling Boys (1898), exhibited by the Secession in Vienna 1900 and now in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of Ghent, Minne's hometown. Another work by Minne, the marble Le Macon or The Bricklayer, was displayedin the Waerndorfer's Galerium.
These photographs from the Wiener Werkstatte Archive demonstrate how a home could be adapted to the 'total work of art' aesthetic. Notice the contunation of the diamond patterned framing of the floor, the same pattern used in the entrance hall. One thing you can't see in this photograph of the Waerndorfer dining room is the revolutionary 'flat' silverware set designed for them by Hoffmann. It became the talk of Viennese society.
Gustav Klimt's Still Water. Park At Schlosskammer was hung prominently next to the fireplace in the living room. At this distance we may see nothing daring in a landscape but Hope I, another of the Waerndorfer Klimts, still has the power to startle. The Waerndorfers knew the artist and were among his most consistent supporters, regardless of his numerous affairs and out-of-wedlock children. They knew when they purchased the painting that woman portrayed was Mizzi Zimmermann, Klimt's mistress and that this was not her first pregnancy.
Managing the finances of the improvident Wiener Werksatte members was always a thankless job. Under pressure from his family to avoid the disgrace of economic ruin, Fritz Waerndorfer finally declared bankruptcy in 1913, losing both his and Lili's combined fortunes. The couple then emigrated to the United States in 1914. Waerndorfer worked as a farmer and then, the man who had owned textile factories, became a designer for a textile company. Fritz began to paint and his pictures were exhibited in 1927 at the Neue Gallery in Vienna. The gallery's owner Otto Kallir re-established himself in New York City in 1938, after fleeing the Nazis. Today, the gallery continues, run by Kallir's granddaughter and former business partner under the name Galerie St. Etienne.
The Waerndorfer art collection has not been so fortunatley preserved. Just as, a generation later, the collections of many Austrian and German Jews would be left behind or looted by the Nazis, the Waerndorfer collection had to be dispersed for financial reasons. If there had been a way to preserve it intact, it would be one of the premier showcases of the Wiener Werkstatte.Note: Speaking of showcases, the Waerndorfers had a showcase specially built for Klimt's Hope I in the private gallery in their home. According to the authors of The Naked Truth (Prestel Verlag: 2008), although the painting was kepy behind locked doors, Lili Waerndorfer frequently displayed it to her guests.
1. Josef Hoffmann - Brooch, 1904, Neue Galerie, NYC.
2. Fritz Waerndorfer - no date given, probably c. 1900-05, Brandstatter Archive, Vienna.
3. Wiener Werkstatte Photo Archive, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
4. Villa Waerndorfer - Entrance Hall, Museum of Applied Culture,
5. Villa Waerndorfer - Galerium, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
6. Villa Waerndorfer - The Dining Room, Museum of Applied Culture, Vienna.
7. Gustav Klimt - Still Water. Park At Schlosskammer, 1899, Leopold Museum, Vienna.
8. Gustav Klimt - Hope I, 1903, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
9. Wedding Portrait of Lili Hellmann and Friedrich Waerndorfer, 1895, Brandstatter Archive, Vienna.