Monday 18 September 2017

Darmstädter Künstlerkolonie

There’s a long tradition of princely enthusiasts of the Arts indulging their passion with a grand project – the Prince of Wales’s fantasy township at Poundbury being a more recent example. In Darmstadt the Grand Duke of Hesse, Ernst Ludwig chose some higher land in the north east of his capital (visible on the 1905 Baedeker map) for the construction of an artists’ colony. The site was already graced by the newly completed Russian Orthodox Chapel built for Tsar Nicholas II whose wife had been born in Darmstadt. Ernst Ludwig was swept up in the late 1890s enthusiasm for the fashionable Jugendstil and fancied himself as the leading patron of this Germanic version of Art Nouveau for which he obtained the services of Joseph Maria Olbrich, co-founder of the Vienna Secession as lead architect. The master plan called for a substantial centre containing multiple studios for artists and craft-workers and a modest number of individually designed houses to be occupied by the most prominent artists. There were three phases of development beginning in 1899 with completion in 1908.

A major exhibition in 1901 featured the newly opened Ernst Ludwig Haus with its shared studio facilities and the newly constructed artists’ homes, several of which had run significantly over-budget. Like many such royal vanity projects the exhibition ended in a large financial loss. A more modest exhibition followed in 1904 and the final exhibition took place in 1908 where the highlights included a new exhibition building and the dedication of the landmark Wedding Tower (Hochzeitsturm) designed by Olbrich and gifted to the Grand Duke on the occasion of his marriage by the grateful citizens of Darmstadt. Olbrich died in August 1908 at the age of 40 while his last building, the Tietz department store in Düsseldorf was still under construction.

Richly decorated entrance to the Ernst-Ludwig-Haus designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908) built for the first exhibition of the Kunstlerkolonie in 1901. Allegorical figures of Strength and Beauty carved by Ludwig Habich (1901) flank the archway.

Five of the first six artists’ houses were designed by Olbrich. The sixth was the work of Peter Behrens, better known as an artist and graphic designer. It was his first excursion into architecture and every detail inside and outside had his mark on it. All internal fixtures and fittings, including the furniture, cutlery and fabrics were designed by Behrens. Despite this personal involvement, Behrens never actually lived there and actually sold it on within a year of construction. In 1909 Behrens designed the influential and monumental AEG turbine factory in Berlin. His legacy was stained by his involvement in Albert Speer’s Prachtstrasse plan – a redesigned Berlin for a thousand year Reich. AEG commissioned an absurdly grandiose design from Behrens for a new corporate HQ. Although it never got built, the design pleased the eye of the Führer who had been a Behrens admirer since he saw the Embassy in St. Petersburg that Behrens designed in 1913.

Russische Kapelle (1899)

There was no place for Guimard’s whiplash curves or Horta’s swooning organic forms in the visual language of Jugendstil. Exuberance and extravagance gave way to a rationalist’s version of Art Nouveau in which visual rhythms were employed with restraint in surface decoration and monumental figure sculptures could still find a home they were denied elsewhere. Floral motifs were invariably anchored by a formal geometry. Ceramic decoration (tiles, mosaic and glazed bricks) was extensively used internally and externally. An especially opulent mosaic of a tender embrace can be seen high on the wall of the main entrance to the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower). The tower itself seems a little problematic – not really a building, more a monument or a landmark. As a seven storey landmark it succeeds, being highly visible across the city and capped by the distinctive and imaginative five spires. Any other function it possesses is secondary. Indeed other than the site specific art works inside, it serves as a modest office space and accommodates a few family treasures and not much else. The scale is intriguing in the context of Olbrich’s work in Düsseldorf where a much larger but no taller building was taking shape. The Tietz department store marked Olbrich’s major step into the architectural mainstream – had he lived longer we might have seen more commercial buildings, perhaps a theatre or even a railway station, with an Olbrich signature.

Mosaic sundial on the Wedding Tower designed by Wilhelm Kleukens.

Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower) designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908) - a gift from the city of Darmstadt to Grand Duke Ludwig II in 1906.

This opulent mosaic of a tender embrace is high on the wall of the main entrance to the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower). 

Decorative mosaic ceiling designed by Olbrich - part of the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower) ensemble.

Alcove with bench seating and 1914 Jugendstil mosaic by Albin Müller on Olbrichweg.

The Lily Basin mosaic by Albin Müller (1914) .

The top of the Hochzeitsturm (Wedding Tower). 

Haus Behrens (1901) designed by architect Peter Behrens as part of the Kunstlerkolonie. Behrens never occupied the house and it was sold on. Behrens (1868-1940) would trurn his back on decoration and become a pioneer of the Modern Movement. As well as an architect he was an industrial designer, furniture designer, graphic designer and typographer. 

Main entrance to the Haus Behrens - Behrens' choice of decorative motifs is restrained and mainly rectilinear.

Elevation of the Großes Haus Glückert (1901) Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung. Architect: Joseph Maria Olbrich.

Ovoid entrance to the Großes Haus Glückert (1901), Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung. Architect: Joseph Maria Olbrich.

Haus Deiters (1901), designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich.

Tietz department store in Düsseldorf.

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