Enduring fabric of a bygone era

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Joanna Trench admires a collection of exquisite Art Deco textiles from Vienna.

Textiles of the Wiener WerkstAtte 1910-1932. By Angela VolkerThames Hudson pound;24.95 www.thamesand hudson.com

Opening Textiles of the Wiener WerkstAtte is like emptying a trunk of the most colourful and exciting fabrics onto the floor: an Aladdin's cave. How fortunate that these textiles, of extraordinary quality for fashion and interior design, are now collected in a book. No student who loves textiles, from the age of eight to 80, could fail to be thrilled. The design is intelligent and varied, with fabric samples, paper designs, colourways, fashion plates, period interiors, fashion photographs and even block-print Jewish New Year greeting cards. Superb full-page spreads of actual-size textiles are sometimes draped or flat with definition so sharp you can see the weave and appreciate the subtleties of the hand wood-block printing, which the author describes with the clarity of someone with first-hand knowledge.

The book begins with an outline of the historical context and the Wiener WerkstAtte's artistic and business activities. It explains the background of textile design which lead to the Wiener WerkstAtte's own textile department. A chapter on styles and forms in the early period shows the international influences of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau and Japanese prints, exemplified by Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffman and Max Snischeck.

Going on to the 1920s, the book gives examples of the diverse use of textiles, from lampshades and cushions to wallpaper, upholstery and fashion. Early fashion photographs and charming plates of Poiret dresses using Wiener WerkstAtte fabrics demonstrate an artistic and rich clientele, as do two Klimt paintings: one (1911-12) of Fredericke Beer-Monti, wearing an exotic dress featuring Marina by Dagobert Peche, with the fabric shown opposite, and the other (1917-18) of Johanna Staude (right) wearing a dress featuring BlAtter by Martha Alber.

Such significant artists were highly inventive; at the 1925 Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes, the epoch was given the name Art Deco and Wiener WerkstAtte textiles acquired an international renown, which continues to this day.

Though the catalogue, biography and bibliographic sources are comprehensive and scholarly, a simple index might have been a useful addition. However, Textiles of the Wiener WerkstAtte is such an informative visual feast that any school or college library would be enriched by its inclusion. Joanna Trench is an artist and teacher

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