1904 Bent beech wood, stained and polished, red oilcloth covering Executed by Kohn H. 68 x W. 98 x D. 53 cm
Christian Witt-Doerring, curator at the Neue Galerie, NY, writes:
In 1904, the Wiener Werkstätte received its first commission for the construction of a building and its entire interior design. It was commissioned by Dr. Viktor Zuckerkandl, who saw an excellent investment opportunity in building a sanatorium in Purkersdorf near Vienna. The intermediary in the assignment to the Wiener Werkstätte was most likely the sister-in-law of the architect's client, Berta Zuckerkandl. She was a cultural journalist who kept one of the most avant-garde cultural salons in Vienna and was a great advocate and supporter of the Secession movement. In starting up this new enterprise, which specialised in treating fashionable "nervous complaints", the latest architectural and design agenda represented by Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte must surely have played an important part in terms of a clearly recognisable corporate identity. They also seemed predestined in this assignment through the priority demanded in questions of hygiene, whether psychological or medicinal. Clear, bright rooms, not overfilled with furniture, were their trademark, their furniture had smooth, easy-to-clean surfaces without mouldings or fretwork.
The chair Hoffmann designed for the sanatorium dining room is striking for its visual lightness and easy-care concept. This was made possible by the use of bent wood technique and upholstering the seat with cerecloth. The former guarantees the highest possible stability and transparency with minimal use of material, while the upholstery fabric is cheap and easy to wash over. Furthermore, the stuff-over method adopted from the 1830s of pulling the upholstery fabric over the front seat rail is more resistant to wear-and-tear than a fully upholstered seat; yet simultaneously more comfortable, since softer than a wooden seat. The design gives Hoffmann the scope to achieve a harmonious combination of abstraction and decoration. Not only that the chair's decoration is extremely economical to make - turned balls and pierced circles; despite its simplicity and frugality, he manages to give the chair a distinctive, personal aesthetic idiom. The balls screwed in between front legs and front seat rail have over and above this structural legitimacy in lending the chair stability. The chair, which was specially developed for the Purkersdorf Sanatorium, was finally taken into the sales programme of the executing bent wood company of J. & J. Kohn as model no. 322 in the 1906 catalogue.