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Darmstadt Artists’ Colony


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(1899–1914)

In 1899 the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse established one of the leading centres of Jugendstil architectural, design, and decorative arts practice in Darmstadt in 1899. The Artists' Colony brought together leading artists and craftsmen as a means of improving German public taste and endowing the contemporary applied and decorative arts with a sense of German identity. This conjunction of national identity, design reform, and economic success was in tune with contemporary progressive design thinking. There had been a background of involvement with the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain with the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig commissioning Hugh Baillie Scott in 1897 to design the dining and drawing rooms of his Neue Palais in Darmstadt. However, one of the main thrusts of the Darmstadt Artists' Colony initiative was to move away from a dependency on foreign influences and reinvigorate quality standards in German design and decorative arts. An important figure in the establishment of the Colony and the promotion of the applied arts in Germany was Darmstadt‐based Alexander Koch, who had published and edited the journal Innendekoration (1891–1939) and Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (1897–1933). The latter, in particular, argued that leading German artists should become involved in the applied arts as a means of raising standards. The applied and decorative arts were felt to have suffered from a lack of high‐calibre artistic intervention. The creative personalities initially involved in the Artists' Colony at Darmstadt were the fine artist and designer Hans Christiansen—invited by the Grand Duke to found the Colony—interior designer Patriz Huber, and weaver and embroiderer Paul Bürck. They were soon joined by the Austrian Joseph Maria Olbrich and German Peter Behrens. An important part of the project was the building of a number of public buildings and artists' houses, many of them designed by Olbrich. The designers sought support from the Grand Duke for an exhibition in Darmstadt in 1901. Organized by Olbrich and displayed in a number of temporary exhibition buildings as well as the artists' houses, the exhibition made a financial loss and drew some negative criticism, not least due to the fact that the Colony was the subject of royal patronage. The exhibits were seen as exemplars of the ‘total work of art’—coordinated architecture, interiors, furnishings, and applied arts: Darmstadt was represented at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, where the Darmstadt Room designed by Olbrich won a Gold Medal, at the Turin Exposizione Internazionale d'Arte Decorativa Moderna of 1902, and the St Louis Exhibition of 1904. A ceramics factory was established in 1906, followed by a glass factory in 1908. However, the First World War brought the Darmstadt venture to an end.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art — Decorative Arts, Furniture, and Industrial Design.


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