In Europe there were two divergent tendencies within the Art Nouveau movement, one purely decorative, the so-called “floral” Art Nouveau which was very popular in Belgium and France, and its geometric counterpart, the Austrian Vienna Secession movement, with its angularity that pointed the way towards the simplicity of 20th Century Design. The Vienna Secession movement evolved at the end of the 19th century as a deliberate attempt to create a new style freeing itself from industrial mass production and the demands of the academies.
The Vienna Secession movement was founded by a group of progressive architects, designers, and artists who were as much concerned with architecture, interior decoration and the decorative arts as with the fine arts. Among the movement’s founders were the painter Gustav Klimt and the architects and designers Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich and Kolomon Moser, who in 1898 designed their exhibition premises.
The Vienna Secession reacted against technology, similar to the Arts and Crafts movement in England which was determined to revive the crafts and improve standards of decorative design. In 1903, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, both members of the Secession, founded the Wiener Werkstaette (Vienna Workshops) which specialized in the production of hand-made metalwork, furniture, textiles, leather articles, glass and ceramics.
The Palais Stocklet in Brussels (1905-1911), for example, stands out as one of Josef Hoffmann’s greatest achievements. As an architect he felt responsible for not only the conception of the structural design and its unique exterior, but also designed everything from the interior decoration to tableware. The dining room of the Palais Stocklet is adorned with Gustav Klimt’s famous marble frieze.
Josef Hoffmann was one of the pioneers of functional design. Starting from an Art Nouveau-inspired belief in the need for unity between architecture, furniture and decoration, he developed a stark, geometric style. He was partly influenced by the Scottish architect and furniture designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose work was shown at Vienna Secession exhibitions. Hoffmann was obsessed, to use his own words, with “the pure square and use of black and white as dominant colors.” His designs are almost Constructivist in inspiration.