Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Indian Graphics

Above are some Visit India poster designs featured in an advertising insert in Commercial Art magazine for June 1929 (Vol 6, No 36). On the reverse is a quartet of designs for well known European consumer products presented in an Asian context. It’s impossible to be certain (at this scale) but the hand of William Spencer Bagdatopoulos (WSB) (1888-1965) may be detected here. WSB was the master when it came to applying an Asian flavour and chromatic brilliance to unglamorous Western products – something we examined in a post dated March 2010. More background information has emerged in online sources – follow this link for a brief biography. It’s interesting to discover his Anglo-Greek parentage – in my ignorance I had convinced myself that he was of Indian origin and had invented this exotic name to advance his career.

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.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Postcard of the Day No. 89 – Hampstead Heath

Today’s postcard jaunt takes us to the wide open spaces on the heights of North London. Hampstead Heath is a recreational space that somehow survived the threat of development as the Victorian city expanded along the trajectory of the tube lines. For working Londoners it offered a taste of the countryside within easy reach. As the 6 day working week became established, more and more workers and their families had the leisure to explore the Heath and patronise the large public houses to be found on the perimeter.

What makes this card special is the presence of another photographer in the right foreground recording a threesome posed on the left. It’s impossible to be certain that this was just a coincidence – photographers have always stage-managed their compositions. But it makes a pleasing self-referential moment. We are deep into Cockney-cliché land here – the Old Bull & Bush pub was immortalised in a music hall song by Florrie Forde. The song was fortuitously adapted from an American original, Under the Anheuser Bush of 1903 – sponsored by the St. Louis based brewers, Anheuser-Busch of Budweiser fame. When these cards were produced the pub was owned by brewers Ind Coope of Burton-upon-Trent, whose sign-painters had covered the premises in brilliant demonstrations of their expertise and command of exuberant Edwardian typefaces.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Margaretenhöhe - refuge from dystopia

Essen is the heartland of the industrial Ruhr. For 400 years it was the centre of the Krupp dynasty with its massive iron and steel producing plants, coalmines and manufacturing from armaments to locomotives. In 1887 control of the business passed to Friedrich Alfred Krupp (known to all as Fritz) who profitably refocused the company on arms production, including warships and U-boats. Leaving behind his wife, Margarethe and his two daughters he would spend several months each year in his villa on the island of Capri. There he would indulge his passions for oceanography and the company of Italian adolescent males. Following his arrest by Italian police for immoral conduct in October 1902 he returned to Germany to be utterly overwhelmed by public scandal as the news filtered back to his homeland. Meanwhile Margarethe, having received anonymous evidence of Fritz’s proclivities, appealed to the Kaiser, a close family friend for assistance in protecting the reputation of the company. Her reward was to be declared insane and confined to an institution on the orders of the Kaiser. Despite the support of the Kaiser, prosecution seemed inevitable and it was Fritz’s sudden death in November that brought matters to a conclusion. There is no agreement on whether he died by his own hand or from natural causes but Margarethe was returned to the family home and managed the business on behalf of her daughter (who inherited the controlling shares from her father) until she came of age in 1906.

After all this turbulence, Margarethe Krupp chose to embark on a personal philanthropic project in 1906 to establish Germany’s first Garden City in the southern suburbs of Essen. She donated the land plus a major sum for construction costs and established a foundation (Stiftung von Margarethe Krupp) to build and administer the new settlement. Guided by the principles of Ebenezer Howard, the first homes were occupied in 1910 and the project proceeded in phases under the supervision of architect, Georg Metzendorf (1874-1934) until completion in 1938. Until 1933 there was a small artists’ colony, prominent among them being the photographer Albert Renger-Patzsch, associated with Die Neue Sachlichkeit movement. Renger-Patzsch specialised in cool dispassionate recording of industrial landscapes and photographs of still-life and the natural world in which he expressed a strong preference for serial imagery.

Allied bombing destroyed many of the buildings in World War 2 – by 1945 less than half of homes were habitable. After a long rehabilitation it was meticulously restored to its original character by 1955. Protected status as an architectural monument was obtained in 1987. The Foundation continues to manage and allocate the letting of houses and apartments. Applications are considered in reference to the Foundation criteria and many are unsuccessful. The Foundation also takes a close interest in protecting the building fabric from unauthorised additions or modifications – tenants wishing to relay a tiled or parquet floor must have their plans approved, special permission is required for dogs or cats and gardens must be maintained to an agreed standard and formula. Satellite dishes are forbidden.

Surrounded by woodland and entered via an archway in the sprawling gateway complex (seen in the vintage postcard above) gives a sense of enclosure and separation from the clamour of the world outside. This quality must have been much more apparent in the days when Essen was an industrial metropolis with 291 collieries and thousands of chimneys and cooling towers venting dark, toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Since the 1990s and the advent of globalisation, Essen has massively de-industrialised while the relics of heavy industry have been transformed into heritage attractions and public amenities. In this context, while the Margaretenhöhe has lost none of its foliage-sheltered charm, it is no longer such a precious refuge from industrial dystopia. The architecture has echoes of Arts & Crafts and German vernacular traditions in its proliferation of quirky features and contrasting rooflines designed to refute any accusation of dull uniformity. Streets were expressly kinked to compose a scene that constantly changes and intersections offset to offer the greatest variety of views. Generous tree planting and amenity space, a central square for markets and community events, a hotel and retail premises and places of worship complete the picture.