Wittgenstein Vitrine (for the 1908 Kunstschau)

MAKER:
Designer

Carl Otto Czeschka ( Austrian, 1878 - 1960 )


Maker

Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) ( Austrian, 1903 - 1932 )


Maker

Josef Berger


Maker

Josef Weber


Maker

Adolf Erbrich ( Austrian, 1874 )


Maker

Alfred Mayer


Maker

Alois Wabak ( 1900 - 1929 )


Maker

Albrecht


Maker

Plasinsky


Maker

Cerhan


Maker

Josef Hoszfeld ( Austrian, 1869 - 1918 )

DATE:
1908
more object details

General Description

The monumental Wittgenstein Vitrine, or display cabinet, is the largest and most lavish known example of the silverwork of the Wiener Werkstätte. A masterpiece of early 20th-century design, it weighs over two hundred pounds and is made of solid silver encrusted with enamel, pearls, opal, and other stones, attached to an ebony-veneered base.

Designed by Werkstätte member Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960) and presented at the 1908 Vienna Kunstschau (Art Show), this work marks an important moment in the development of Viennese design. A talented artist and designer, Czeschka joined the Vienna Secession in 1900 and, in 1902, began teaching drawing at the city’s Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts). In 1904, he joined the Werkstätte, where he produced designs for their first postcards in 1905 and subsequently a host of objects, from furnishings to jewelry. His work in the graphic arts, including illustrations for Die Nibelungen (2014.35), reflected his artistic development in all media, including silverwork. The vitrine’s dominant motifs—a pair of sentinel-like caryatids or knights and the dominant bird and grapevine fretwork that wraps the case—are frequently reoccurring themes in his oeuvre. Favoring opulent decoration over a nonetheless architectural structure, this work expresses the Werkstätte’s ultimate embrace of a richly ornamental and symbolic aesthetic paralleling the work of famed Secessionist artist and Czeschka associate Gustav Klimt.

The vitrine was purchased by Karl Wittgenstein (1847–1913), a Viennese iron and steel magnate and the leader of one of the most powerful families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Wittgenstein’s support had enabled the construction of Vienna’s Secession building in 1898. With brother Paul’s encouragement, the family engaged in a series of artistic and architectural commissions in the following years, including paintings by Klimt and the remodeling and furnishing of a number of their homes by the Werkstätte. The vitrine, originally installed in the Red Salon of the family’s mansion on Vienna’s Alleegasse, remained with Wittgenstein descendants until 1949 and was subsequently held in two private collections until its acquisition by the Dallas Museum of Art in 2013.

Adapted from

Kevin Tucker, "Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine" Gallery text, "The Wittgenstein Vitrine," 2014.

Web Resources

  • Art This Week
    Watch an interview with former Curator Kevin Tucker on the history of the Wittgenstein Vitrine.

  • Art This Week
    Watch an interview with Associate Conservator of Objects Fran Baas on the conservation of the Wittgenstein Vitrine.

  • DMA Uncrated
    Read "Bird Watching," a blog post on the identification of the bird and other animal species depicted on the Wittgenstein Vitrine.

  • DMA Uncrated
    Read "Installing Opulence," a blog post that provides a behind-the-scenes look at the installation of the exhibition Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine.

  • DMA Uncrated
    Read "Conservation Timeline," a blog post on conservation of the Wittgenstein Vitrine written by Associate Conservator of Objects Fran Baas.

  • DMA Uncrated
    Read "Silver, Pearls and Squirrels: The DMA's Newest Acquisition," a blog post announcing the acquisition of the Wittgenstein Vitrine.

  • DMA.org
    See an interactive 3D Model of the Wittgenstein Vitrine.

  • YouTube
    Learn about the History and Conservation of the Wittgenstein Vitrine at the DMA.

  • YouTube
    Watch the video, "Modern Opulence in Vienna - The Wittgenstein Vitrine."

  • YouTube
    Listen to a talk by Kevin Tucker and Fran Baas entitled, "Modern Opulence: Art and Design in Early 20th Century Vienna" symposium lecture, "Modern Opulence in Vienna: The Wittgenstein Vitrine," November 15, 2014.

  • YouTube
    Christian Witt-Dörring, "Modern Opulence: Art and Design in Early 20th Century Vienna" symposium lecture, "The Wittgenstein Family and the Wiener Werkstätte," November 15, 2014.

  • YouTube
    Dr. Alessandra Comini, "Modern Opulence: Art and Design in Early 20th Century Vienna" symposium lecture, "A Walk with Wittgenstein: The Cultural Surround of Vienna’s Kunstschau of 1908," November 15, 2014.