Sunday, June 30, 2013

Object of the Day, Museum Edition: A Mother of Pearl Veneered Desk Set, Austria, 1910

Desk Set
Vienna, 1910
The Victoria and Albert Museum
Today, we’ll be looking at objects which use mother-of-pearl. Mother-of-pearl has long been celebrated for its beauty and has been employed in all manner of art for centuries. This beautiful medium was never more popular than in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Let’s begin by taking a look at a stunning suite of objects from the last gasp of the Edwardian era.

Here, we see a desk set from 1910 which was made in Vienna as designed by Josef Hoffmann, and manufactured by Wiener Werkstätte. The whole of the set is veneered in mother-of-pearl and ebony, with bases lined with black cloth, and other elements of leather, glass and silver plate.

The set consists of an inkstand, a candlestick, a penholder, a seal, and a card holder. The inkstand is rectangular, veneered with rectangular plaques of mother-of-pearl and inlaid with a horizontal stringing of ebony. It features hollowed-out areas to support the candlestick and penholder. The candlestick takes a similar rectangular shape. It, too, is veneered with rectangular plaques of mother-of-pearl, the whole length of which is inlaid with two vertical strings of ebony per side. The top offers a circular silver-plated inset to hold a candle.

The matching penholder is veneered with similar plaques of mother-of-pearl and strings of ebony with the top boasting a circular silver-plated inset to hold pens. Meanwhile, the seal of matching materials has a top with a square silver-plated inset. And, finally, the card holder is rectangular with one side higher than the other, the sides are veneered with rectangular plaques of mother-of-pearl, and inlaid with vertical stringing of ebony. The sloping top features a rectangular inlaid pocket of leather.

Small luxury objects such as this, veneered in mother-of-pearl, were produced in great numbers in Vienna in the Biedermeier period (1815-1840). About sixty years later, the designers of the Wiener Werkstätte Co. reintroduced the material, but the shape of the early Twentieth-Century pieces is squarer with more geometrical applied adornment. By 1912, sets such as this one sold for tremendous amounts of money.

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