The roots of this celebrated furniture manufacturing company lay in Michael Thonet's (1796–1881) cabinetmaking business established in 1819 in Boppard am Rhein. From about 1830 he began experimenting with the possibilities of harnessing the steaming processes used in boat building for the fabrication of bentwood furniture, moving to Vienna in 1842 where he was granted a patent for his ideas. In 1849 he established a factory that expanded rapidly over the following years with the mass production of bentwood furniture and, in 1853, he made his three sons partners in the firm.1851 was an important year for Thonet. Not only did he gain a significant order for the celebrated Daum Café, for which he designed the No. 4 chair, but he also exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London where he was awarded a bronze medal. In 1858 Thonet produced the classic, round‐seated No. 14 chair that went on to achieve sales figures of several million by the early 20th century. The No. 14 was also the precursor of flatpack furniture in the post‐Second World War period, being composed of six basic components that could be transported economically from factory to retail outlet and then assembled straightforwardly and with a minimum of skill. Thonet furniture gained further recognition through its adoption as clean, undecorated, efficient pieces of design by Modernist designers such as Le Corbusier, who showed examples (No. 9 and No. 209 chairs) in his Pavillon de L'Esprit Nouveau at the Paris Exposition des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels. By the early 20th century the company had established a number of factories and among its more celebrated designers were the Austrians Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, and Otto Wagner. In the 1920s the company had also begun to manufacture furniture in tubular steel in Germany and Austria, working with designers such as Marcel Breuer, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, Charlotte Perriand, and Mart Stam. In 1935 the company moved its entire tubular steel furniture manufacture to Frankenberg. Thonet also opened a showroom in London in 1929 and, after a slightly hesitant start, Thonet furniture took on a fashionable edge and could be found in such venues as Oliver Bernard's Strand Palace Hotel, London, in 1930, and the restaurant of the Capitol Cinema, Epsom (1930). After the Second World War Thonet rebuilt its manufacturing plants, continuing to commission designs from significant designers and receiving recognition for its significance as an important dimension of the Modernist outlook through the mounting of a Thonet exhibition by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1953. Notable designs have included the plywood, cantilevered S‐Chair (1968) by Verner Panton, the wood and cane 737 Chair (1993), and the S900 Chair by Norman Foster 1999).
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.