The Wittgenstein Silver Cabinet by the Vienna Workshops Recently Acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art

The Dallas Museum of Art today announced the acquisition of a masterpiece for its acclaimed decorative arts and design collection, a solid silver vitrine, or display cabinet, made by the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), a collaborative group of artists, architects and designers founded in 1903. Standing over five feet tall, this vitrine was originally owned by the Wittgenstein family of Vienna and is the largest and most lavish example known of the silverwork of the Wiener Werkstätte.  A triumph of early 20th-century design, it is made of silver encrusted with enamel, pearls, opal and other gemstones. The piece was intended to be as much a work of art as any precious object that could be placed within it. The Museum acquired the cabinet earlier this month from a private collection, and it is currently on view in the European galleries on Level 2.

“We are pleased to bring such an exquisite work of international importance into the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection,” said Maxwell L. Anderson, the Museum’s Eugene McDermott Director.  “The vitrine represents a significant moment in European design, and contributes to the understanding of the evolution of design aesthetics in the 20th century. We know our community will enjoy experiencing the masterwork both for its importance and beauty.”

Kevin W. Tucker, The Margot B. Perot Senior Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Dallas Museum of Art, remarked, “Few, if any, objects so effectively convey the exuberant spirit of progressive Viennese design in the first decade of the 20th century as does this unique masterpiece. The cabinet and its ornamentation resonate with the tensions between the Werkstätte’s progressive aesthetic, historicism and the opulent materials that they favored, eloquently questioning the evolving definition of modernity and the very future of design in Europe and beyond.”

Designed by Werkstätte member Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960) and presented as the centerpiece of a gallery dedicated to their work at the 1908 Vienna Kunstschau (Art Show), this vitrine reflects a move from the rectilinear forms previously favored by Werkstätte co-founder Josef Hoffmann to an ornamental aesthetic characteristic of the work of Czeschka. The use of opulent materials and particular stylized ornamentation—including a pair of regal caryatid figures supporting the onyx top and a variety of leaves, birds and squirrels that decorate the case—reflects both Czeschka’s prior work and the inspiration of modern Viennese paintings by artists such as Gustav Klimt, an associate of Czeschka whose paintings were prominently featured in the 1908 exhibition. 

Czeschka was equally successful in the graphic arts and sculptural work, subsequently producing the book Die Nibelungen (1909) and interior designs for the Caberet Fledermaus and the Werkstätte’s most important architectural commission, a palatial house (c. 1905–11) in Brussels for banker Adolphe Stoclet.

This vitrine was purchased at the 1908 exhibition by Karl Wittgenstein (1847–1913), a Viennese iron and steel magnate and the leader of one of the most powerful families in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Wittgenstein’s family engaged in a series of artistic and architectural commissions in the following years, including paintings by Klimt and the remodeling and furnishing of a number of their homes by the Werkstätte. The vitrine, originally installed in the family’s palace in Vienna, remained in the Wittgenstein family’s possession until 1949, when it was sold at auction and entered another private collection.

In celebration of this unique acquisition, the Museum anticipates receiving a gift of multiple works on paper and design objects from Dr. Alessandra Comini, a leading scholar of turn-of-the-century Viennese culture and the University Distinguished Professor of Art History Emerita, Meadows School of the Arts, Southern Methodist University. These Austrian Secessionist works include a self-portrait by Koloman Moser, currently featured in the touring exhibition, Koloman Moser: Designing Modern Vienna, 1897–1907, co-organized by the Neue Galerie New York and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Silver at the Dallas Museum of Art

The Dallas Museum of Art began its collection of silver in 1987 with the gift of the Hoblitzelle Collection of English and Irish silver, a collection of mostly 18th- and early 19th-century silver. In 1989, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. established the foundation for the Museum’s now-unparalleled collection of American silver of the 19th century through the purchase of several important objects from the Sam Wagstaff Collection, including Gorham’s iconic “ice” bowl and a Tiffany & Co. Chrysanthemum pitcher from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.

In the 1990s, the Museum continued developing these holdings through the acquisition of the Stephen Vaughan Collection of 19th-century flatware, the 1889 Belmont-Rothschild humidor by Tiffany and the Oberod Collection of Martelé by Gorham, later adding the unique Martelé dressing table made for the Paris Exposition of 1900 and several other exposition-related works including a unique “Viking” vase made by Tiffany & Co. in 1901. In 2002, the DMA acquired the most important private collection of American 20th-century manufactured silver: the Jewel Stern American Silver Collection. In addition, the museum has recently acquired several important works of late 19th- and 20th-century European silver, including a silver trophy cup by English designer Charles Robert Ashbee, a silver and opal box by Archibald Knox, and a silver and malachite centerpiece by Wiener Werkstätte designer Josef Hoffmann.

The Dallas Museum of Art has published two catalogues on its American silver collection: Silver in America, 1840–1940: A Century of Splendor (1995) and Modernism in American Silver: 20th-Century Design (2005).

About the Dallas Museum of Art

Established in 1903, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) ranks among the leading art institutions in the country and is distinguished by its innovative exhibitions and groundbreaking educational programs. At the heart of the Museum and its programs is its global collection, which encompasses more than 22,000 works and spans 5,000 years of history, representing a full range of world cultures. Located in the vibrant Arts District of downtown Dallas, the Museum welcomes more than half a million visitors annually and acts as a catalyst for community creativity, engaging people of all ages and backgrounds with a diverse spectrum of programming, from exhibitions and lectures to concerts, literary events, and dramatic and dance presentations. In January 2013, the DMA returned to a free general admission policy and launched DMA Friends, the first free museum membership program in the country.

The Dallas Museum of Art is supported, in part, by the generosity of DMA Partners and donors, the citizens of Dallas through the City of Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Image: Silver Vitrine (for the 1908 Kunstschau), 1908, Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), Vienna, Austria, 1903-1932, maker; Carl Otto Czeschka, Austrian, 1878-1960, designer; Josef Berger, Austrian, 1874/75-?, goldsmith; Josef Hoszfeld, Austrian, 1869-1918, Adolf Erbrich, Austrian, 1874-?, Alfred Mayer, Austrian, 1873-?, silversmiths; Josef Weber, dates unknown, cabinetmaker; Wabak, Albrech, Plasinsky, Cerhan (unidentified craftsmen), silver, moonstone, opal, lapis, lazuli, mother-of-pearl, baroque pearls, onyx, marble, ivory, enamel, glass, and Macassar ebony veneers (replaced), image courtesy of Richard Nagy Ltd, London, Dallas Museum of Art, The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc.

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For more information, please contact:

Jill Bernstein
Dallas Museum of Art
 214-922-1802
JBernstein@DMA.org