23 July 2013

Sonja Knips: A Patron And Her Collection

This is the  face of the woman who stares from Gustav Klimt's Whistlererian Portrait Of Sonia Knips (1898, Belvedere Gallery, Vienna).  In the painting, a young woman wears an elaborate pink cake of a dress with a high ruffled neck; her left arm grips the chair as she sits forward, alert and possibly a bit wary.  Guarded is the word that comes to mind when looking at her not quite looking at the viewer.  When she sat for Klimt in 1898,  Sonja Knips had already known the artist for   several years, even before her marriage, and there had been the hint of an aborted romance in that past.   For Knips, the highlight of the year 1898 may have been her introduction to  the architect Josef Hoffmann  - not the portrait we know her by.  From its formation, Sonja Knips was an important patron of the Vienna Secession and of its favorite architect, yet the lengthy entry  in The Grove Dictionary of Art manages to dodge any mention of her role in the arts.  All three, Klimt, Knips, and Hoffmann, shared a common aim: the acceptance of the new  Viennese art. 

Sonja, Baroness Poitiers des Eschelles, was the wife of industrial magnate Anton Knips. Josef Hoffmann was a young architect from Moravia, recently employed in the studio of Otto Wagner.  According to several who wrote about their encounters with Hoffmann, he was  a man of few words, difficult and difficult to know.  Yet the young Baroness Knips (1873-1959) established a relationship with him, based on artistic empathy, that lasted for decades.   Hoffmann once wrote that "One should not obstruct the intuition,"was a remarkable comment from one who banished the curvilinear  lines of Art Nouveau in favor of the geometry of straight lines, squares, and triangles.    Knips also was unusual for a woman of her position in her adventurousness, eschewing the historicist style favored by the upper classes.   Her taste and discernment enabled the new art  to survive and flourish in a city that was of two minds about the relative merits of its glorious past and its exciting but unsettling present.

Fruit Trees,  one of Klimt's earliest oil landscapes, was a favorite of Sonja Knips.   The painting was  included in the Seventh Secession Exhibition of March 1900. The location of the scene has been tentatively identified as St. Agatha, near Goisern in Upper Austria where the artist had spent a happy summer.  After purchasing  the picture, Knips was photographed on a number of occasions with the picture displayed in her home.  What made Fruit Trees look so new was  the artist's telescopic focus on the foliage (matched by Knips's  Japanese-influenced reform dress (see second photo at top).

Delighted by Hoffmann's remodeling of some rooms in her Gumpendroferstrasse residence, in 1903 Knips commissioned Hoffmann to design a  country home for her family in Seeboden, a resort town  on the Milstattersee in southern Austria.  The  house, measuring only 9 by 15 meters, was furnished with simple wood and wicker also designed by the architect.  The summer house  sits at the left of the photograph, with a boathouse to its right, directly on the lake.  There was also a horse barn on the property and plenty of room for her dogs to run.

Knips also supported the Wiener Werkstatte by wearing its 'reform dresses' in a long-running publicity campaign, in the terms of the day.  Loose-fitting and boldly-patterned, reform  dresses were a way for a woman to ally herself with revolutionary modernism in art  and attitude.   Founded in 1903,  the Wiener Werkstatte, first through the Mosers - Koloman and Ditha - designed and produced the clothing. The Werkstatte grew to  more than one hundred craftspeople in just two years, a silver workshop was followed by others devoted to  ceramics, textiles, metalwork, etc. 

Knips appeared frequently in magazines devoted to art and design, lending her image through  photography to promote the new art.  In 1905 a review celebrating the Viennese art colony designed by Hoffmann at Hohe Warte included a feature on Knips’s wardrobe. On several occasions, Knips modeled outfits and accessories at the Salon Floge. run by Emilie Floge, a close confidante of Klimt.
The flower basket brooch Knips wore at the neck of her dress (photo at right)  was designed for her by Hoffmann, as was the collar worn in the photo at top, a dramatic piece designed by Moser.

It seems a peculiarly touching gesture of confidence from patron to artist that Knips asked Hoffmann to design a monument for the Knips family grave site at Vienna's Hietzinger Friedhof cemetery in 1919.    Both Sonja Knips and her husband Anton lived long lives, with Anton dying in 1946 and Sonja living for another four decades after she gave the commission.  But Knips, whose marriage was widely believed to be unhappy, maintained a personal decorum that, while perhaps a contrast her always forward-looking and active interest in the arts, shared some of the attributes of Hoffmann's austere modernism.  The triangular shape of the monument, while unusual for its purpose, is not flamboyant.

In January of 1926, Sonia Knips left her bridal home  for the one she had dreamed of since Hoffmann began his room-by-room redesign of her Gumpendorferstrassse  residence 23 years before – a complete “Hoffmann-Haus"  in Dobling, an old Biedermeier  district of Vienna. Hoffmann honored the historic neighborhood by  designing the Villa Knips to harmonize with its neighbors.  Although the facade was asymmetrical and the windows were different sizes on all three floors, the proportions  adhered to a rigorously worked-out geometry.   And yet - those proportions dance.

For the site of her dream house, (Knips wrote after moving in that she had dreamed of living there forever)  Knips chose to buy the Villa Zuckerkandl from her journalist friend, not for the existing house but rather for its site, making the genesis of Villa Knips an early version of the ‘tear-down.’  The decorations were designed by Dagobert Peche, unabashedly described by Berta Zuckerkandl  as  “the greatest genius of ornament that Austria has possessed since the Baroque.”   She had a point; the short-lived Peche overflowed with ideas, occasionally too many at once, but not in his decoration of Villa Knips.  A home, a total work of art, and a meeting place for artists and writers, Villa Knips was everything Sonja Knips had hoped for.

Villa Knips was to be the last urban home that Hoffmann built.  In the years following World War I the  Austrian economy was weak and  Hoffmann received few building commissions, most  coming from neighboring countries.   

Christina Ehrlich, who studied with Hoffmann and with ceramicist Michael Powolny, carried out the stucco work, both exterior and interior.  The facade of Villa Knips was studded with rows of discreet diamond-shaped accents, a frequent Hoffmann touch (he used them on the wicker furniture for the summer house in Seeboden, too).  Just inside the front door was Ehrlich's staircase,  a series of  stucco columns spectacularly decorated in the vocabulary of 1920s Werkstatte design.  For the interior decoration, Knips chose Dagobert Peche, one of a new generation of Werkstatte designers,  whose Viola carpeting is visible throughout rooms on the main floor.   

Knips allowed  her private suite of rooms to be  displayed at the International Exposition in Paris in 1925 where the sophisticated French critics were shocked - or  titillated - by the  exoticism of its furnishings.  A sculptured Venus by Susi Singer and paintings by Maria Strauss-Likarz were among her personal items near a sleeping alcove with a bar and smoking area.  The homely  knitting basket with balls of wool escaped notice.  This may be the moment to note that, like Lili Waerndorfer (recently profiled here), Knips was quite happy to own and display a Klimt nude,  one of the artist's  last completed paintings, Adam and Eve.  After the death of Koloman Moser in 1918, Knips and Martin Haberditzl pooled resources to purchase Klimt's controversial Medicine (c. 1899) as a gift to the Belvedere Gallery.  Unfortunately, the mural was destroyed in 1945, a casualty of war, while it was in storage outside Vienna.

If Knips began her career as a patron by sitting for her portrait, she soon became an active protagonist in Viennese art.  We can watch her taste evoke and her interests broaden over three decades.  From an apartment renovation, begun in 1903, to a country home, to a family mausoleum, to a new urban villa, her architectural commissions provided Josef Hoffmann with important opportunity and visibility.  Her relationship with the reticent Hoffmann, if documented, would surely make a  fascinating tale.  From the first workshop of the Wiener Werkstatte, she ordered a 105-piece set of its radically-streamlined flat silverware.  She was gracious in allowing herself and her homes to be photographed and documented for such publications as Deutsch Kunst und Dekoration and Moderne Bauformen.  Her efforts did not diminish after the deaths of Klimt and Moser, nor was she deterred in her efforts by the transition of the works from culture to history.  There is so much more to know about this complex woman; if only we could.

For more on Sonia Knips

Additional text & images added 07/29/13.
For further reading: Sonja Knips Und Die Wiener Moderne by Manu von Miller, Vienna, Verlag Christan Brandstatter:  2004. (available in German only)

Images: unless noted otherwise, from Christian Brandstatter Archive, Vienna.
1. Sonia Knips - photographed at the Floge Salon in a Reform dress and collar designed for he by Koloman Moser, c. 1904.
2. Sonia Knips In A Japanese-influenced Reform Dress, photographed at home -  Gumpendorferstrasse -with Gustav Klimt's Fruit Trees.
3. Gustav Klimt - Fruit Trees, c. 1901, private collection.
4. Josef Hoffmann - Knips Country House (at left) With Boathouse (center).
5. Sonja Knips Wearing A Dress From The Wiener Werkstatte in a fabric designed by Eduard Wimmer-Wisgrill, with a brooch designed by Josef Hoffmann at the neck, 1911.
6. Josef Hoffmann - brooch designed for Sonja Knips, 1910, Museum of Applied 
Culture, Vienna.
7. Josef Hoffmann, sketch for a Knips family grave site, 1919.
8. Front view of Villa Knips at Nusswaldgasse 22, Dobling, c. 1926.
9. Foyer of Villa Knips, with stucco work by Christina Erhlich, 1926, Moderne Bauformen Magazine.
10. Villa Knips, seating area with upholstery and carpeting by Dagobert Peche and a painting by Josef August Lux, 1931.
11. Villa Knips - Music room with a view of the garden, late 1920s, Museum of applied Cutlure, Vienna.
12. Gustav Klimt - Adam And Eve, c.1917, Belvedere Gallery, Vienna.
13. Villa Knips - seating area with Klimt's Adam and Eve, c.1926-31.


15 July 2013

Helene Funke: A Viennese Fauve

Is In The Loge  a tribute by the Austrian Helene Funke (1869-1957) to another expatriate artist  in Paris, Mary Cassatt, who painted a similar scene with the same title?   This is just the first of many unanswered questions that come to mind while looking at this artist's accomplished but seldom reproduced paintings.
As recently as 2007 for a exhibition Vienna-Paris: Van Gogh, Cezanne, And Austrian Modernism 1880-1960, held at the Belvedere Gallery, Matthias Boeckl  wrote mistakenly about Funke and her contemporary Broncia Koller that "neither artist had the possibility of showing her work in a public forum - not even at the Secession ..."   Wrong in every conceivable way.  Funke had exhibited with the  Hagebund and with other local groups.  Before that and unlike most of her Viennese contemporaries, she exhibited her work in Paris, with Matisse and  the Fauves in 1907 and again 1908 and she is listed in  catalogs of the Salon d'Autuomne and the Salon des Independents.

Funke  arrived in Paris in 1905 and lived for some time at 27 rue des Fleurus, in the same building where Gertrude Stein and her brother Leo lived.  The Steins opened their art collection to viewers on Saturday evenings, a collection that included such new artists as Cezanne, Gauguin, Renoir, Picasso, and Matisse.   There, Funke found what she had come for. 
Still life painting had been around since the days of the Roman Empire, but it came into disrepute when too many women took it up and became too good at it. For Helene Funke, still life was a genre well-suited to her interests in form and color.   Griselda Pollock, in the ground-breaking study Old Mistresses (1982) didn't have to look very far to unearth Maurice Grant, an art historian who wrote in 1952 that "flower painting demands no genius of a mental or spiritual kind. but only the genius of taking pains and supreme craftsmanship."    Was he oblivious to the use of still life  in 20th century art?

 Funke exhibited with Vienna Hagebund  in 1911, where her paintings were considered too revolutionary by Austrian critics, still struggling to digest the new art of the previous decade.  No one uttered a word about delicacy or small gestures then. 
But Funke's work was much more than a conduit between avant-garde Paris and Habsburg Vienna.  Her expressive brushwork may remind the viewer  of Van Gogh but her experiments with forms are analogous to what was being done by the avant-garde composers she knew in Vienna.  Her Still Life With Rose Basket takes an acceptable subject for a woman and turns it into intertwining arabesques,  She constructed  Peach Still Life with the fruits at the center of  concentric yellow and green waves, that the eye gradually resolves into crinkles of fabric.

Funke used still life to explore color as though it were the subject of a painting, never more obvious than when she left white spaces between colors in Still Life With Fruit And Vessels.  The separations are not technically necessary as they are in wood block prints....
More than anyone else in Vienna, Funke was the artist who  engage with the often invoked names of Manet and Van Gogh.   In Vienna, women were the artists who worked as modernists but men became the modernist heroes, by an all too familiar slight of memory. Although Funke remained physically safe in Vienna during  World War II, her art was "'disappeared' as degenerate during the Nazi era.  Almost all the of Funke's personal papers  were lost, yet another casualty of the war.

For further reading: The Memory Factory by Julie M. Johnson, Purdue University Press:2012
For more about Helene Funke ( in German and English translation)
1. Helene Funke - In The Loge, 1904, Lentos Kunstmuseum, Linz.
2. Helene Funke - Peach Still Life, 1918, belvedere  gallery, Vienna.
3. Helene Funke - Still Life With Rose Basket,  c. 1910-19, private collection, Vienna.
4. Helene Funke - Still Life With Fruit And Vessels, 1931, CollectionKalus - Dr. Friderike Ortner, Basel.
 5. Helene Funke - Still Life With Callas, 1927,  Belvedere gallery, Vienna.

09 July 2013


Birds visit the Atlantic coast at every season.  The Great Atlantic Flyway lives up to its name as a vast avian migratory route between the Arctic and the Caribbean.  Like the fish in the water, birds know that there is an important but invisible line separating the warm Atlantic from the cold one, and that the line intersects the shore near the outermost point of Cape Cod.  In August, if the ocean temperature off the Maine coat reaches the low 60s Fahrenheit, it is considered warm. 
People, on the other hand, divide themselves into summer people and  locals.  The locals are the ones who refer to shore birds as Waders, because that's what they do along the shore.  When I was a little girl  in Newburyport, the birds were my beach mates  The birds regarded my approaches warily but seemed willing to share the beach with me as long as I obeyed their rules, which seemed to boil down to doing nothing to startle them. With literal-minded certainty, I never questioned that Crane Beach was named for the birds, but historians of Ipswich, Mass.  know differently. Just across the inland sound, Plum Island, known officially as the Parker National Wildlife Refuge, stretches down the shore from the mouth of the Merrimack River at Newburyport to Ipswich.  The birds, it seems, needed a place of refuge from us.

"The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.
--Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.
The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focused; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst

- The Sandpiper by Elizabeth Bishop, copyright by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

In 1906, B.J.O. Nordfeldt spent the summer in Ipswich.   This immigrant from Sweden had already studied print-making with  Frank Morley Fletcher in England.  What drew Nordfeldt to Massachusetts was the chance to work with the great artist and teacher Arthur Wesley Dow.  Dow had opened a summer school in his hometown of Ipswich in 1891 and, fifteen years later, Nordfeldt  joined a class that numbered about fifty students each season.    While their works were extensions of the ukiyo-e prints of Japan, those Yankee  birds  exerted a hypnotic pull on Nordfeldt's imagination. 

 For more: B.J.O.Nordfeldt: 1906, available here 22 November 2010.

1. B.J.O. Nordfeldt - The Wave - Moonrise, 1906, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, washington, D.C.
2. Kyoto school - bird perched on a post, late 19th century, Freer Gallery, Washington, DC.
3. B.J.O. Nordfeldt - The Long Wave at Ipswich, 1906, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.

03 July 2013

Fritz & Lili Waerndorfer: Art Patrons of the New Vienna

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  Gro├čindustrieller, 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.
  was hung
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.