The collection of furniture in the
Liechtenstein CITY PALACE
Mirroring the development in painting, the transition from Classicism and Empire to Biedermeier in furniture took place smoothly, without any abrupt changes. The furniture on display at the Liechtenstein CITY PALACE attests to a wide variety of forms and colours, conveying a vivid picture of the interiors of this time. As in the mid-nineteenth century, the state rooms are furnished with pieces designed by Peter Hubert Desvignes and Michael Thonet.
In the gallery rooms one will also see subtle and ingenious designs by David Roentgen and striking pieces from the Danhauser furniture factory, the designs of which turned convention on its head, becoming the avant-garde of their time.
With increased demand for comfort, furniture-making in this period underwent a veritable boom. In 1816, 578 joineries and 297 master-carpenters were officially registered in Vienna. In order to assure the quality of Viennese furniture-making, cabinet-makers were obliged to take an examination at the Academy of Fine Arts.
From the 1830s onwards, the stylistic elements of Biedermeier, Empire and Rococo Revival increasingly began to merge, and there were hardly any limits to the imagination of Viennese furniture designers. Technological advances also contributed to the rapid changes in style that can be observed during the first half of the nineteenth century.
The character of Austrian Biedermeier furniture is often described as one of ‘playful sobriety’. Delicate and yet solid forms were typical of much of the furniture produced during this period. Together with paler woods, walnut in particular was favoured on account of its warm coloration. The aesthetic effect of individual pieces was achieved by means of the veneer and its finish, with the fabric used in the upholstery sometimes playing a decisive role. Here contrasting colours in what would today be regarded as highly unusual combinations were the quintessence of contemporary design, a feature also found in wall coverings and carpets.
The designs for the interiors of the CITY PALACE are mostly the work of Desvignes himself, with the exception of Michael Thonet’s bentwood chairs. Thonet had developed the first bentwood furniture in his native town of Boppard am Rhein in Germany around 1830, using laminated steam-bent wood to construct chairs, a process he patented in Paris in 1841. In 1842 Thonet moved to Vienna at the behest of the Austrian State Chancellor, Prince Clemens Metternich. For the Liechtenstein CITY PALACE he designed a series of elegant, lightweight chairs of various types, some gilded, others veneered in palisander wood. For these he developed a new shaping process, using laminated bundles of wooden rods which could be steam-bent in any direction as required. The chairs appear on workshop invoices but without the customary memorandum ‘after the design and specifications of the architect, Herr Desvignes’. The term ‘Laufsessel’ or occasional chair is first found in a furniture inventory of 1847 and became a synonym for any kind of lightweight chair that could be easily repositioned as required.
As well as these relatively simply designed chairs Desvignes also encouraged a turning away from Biedermeier and the adoption of the more opulent forms of the Rococo Revival. Great importance was placed on the use of exclusive materials and the superb craftsmanship of the decorative elements. Frequently, however, Desvignes was dissatisfied with both the quality and the price of the work produced by Austrian craftsmen and resorted to purchasing English or French pieces.
The interiors of the CITY PALACE were enhanced by the display of exotic collectors’ objects. Interest in Far Eastern lacquer objects can be observed from the eighteenth century onwards, becoming particularly popular in Austria during the reign of Maria Theresa. In the mid-nineteenth century Desvignes drew on this predilection, combining his furniture designs with chinoiserie elements. Particularly striking examples of this concept can be seen in the two extravagant corner étagères with their original porcelain objects in the Large Mahogany Room.
Desvignes’s fears “... I shall leave Vienna, my name will vanish like an Ephemera, be quite forgotten, and others will jump into my hard-earned and well-earned laurels if even there should be praise bestowed on what has been done there through my means and toil – no one knows what I have had to go through, how my patience has been tried, how my feelings have been worked up...” have not proved true, and his achievements remain unique.