Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Tapestries by Max Wislicenus

Illustration: Max Wislicenus. Tapestry design, c1914.

The German artist and designer Max Wislicenus, was the son of the successful painter Hermann Wislicenus who produced work in the Germanic romantic vein. Max Wislicenus was both an artist and a designer, but also an educator who taught for a number of years at the State Academy of Arts and Crafts in Breslau (modern day Wroclaw) in Silesia which is now an integral part of Poland.

Although Wislicenus produced work in a range of disciplines including fine art, illustration, stained glass and furniture design, it was under textiles that his work should really be judged and more specifically that of tapestry. Two examples are given in this article of his tapestry work. They were produced just before the start of the First World War and are a good example of the artists style and personal approach to tapestry design.

These two examples of Wislicenus work cannot be classed as particularly close to any of the Modernist steps being taken in a number of disciplines across Germany. However, it would be a mistake to both overestimate the appeal and power of Modernism in immediate pre-war Germany, just as it would be to underestimate the work of Wislicenus himself.

Both examples are in a standard tapestry weaving type format. They are relatively clear of most of the historically inspired motifs and border elements of decorative pattern work that dogged much of the nineteenth century output of European tapestry. However, there is pattern work included although it is not overly intrusive and tends to reflect the clearly Classical theme portrayed in each composition.

These tapestries are in many respects reminiscent of some of the decorative panel and tapestry work that was to be produced after the First World War in the style and decorative era in what we now term, Art Deco. Although Wislicenus is particularly known for his Art Nouveau type styling through his work across a range of disciplines, it is interesting to note this similarity and to consider that many of the artists, decorators and designers who had worked through much of the Art Nouveau phase of European decorative arts, would still have been present when the styling moved on into Art Deco. It is this continuity that is sometimes either misunderstood, or even misrepresented.

Illustration: Max Wislicenus. Tapestry design, c1914.

Designers and decorators are by nature pragmatic and to some extent at least, aware of commercial changes and indications in the market. That some designers intuitively moved on to styles that were sympathetic to the Art Deco movement, while others saw opportunities or adapted quickly to change, is to be expected. Where Wislicenus stood in this scheme is unknown, although he was very active in the promotion and production of tapestry throughout the first few decades of the twentieth century which included both the Art Nouveau and Art Deco style movements.

Wislicenus was involved with the introduction of tapestry as a serious subject and set up a number of workshops at both the educational and commercial level over the period of his career. Two particular dates stand out, that of 1904 when Wislicenus created a tapestry workshop within the textiles department at the state Academy of Arts and Crafts in Breslau. The workshop within the textile department was run by Wanda Bibrowicz an ex-student and trusted artist and designer. Interestingly the textile department from 1911 was run by Wislicenus wife Else. The second date that of 1919, was when he set up another tapestry workshop at Pillnitz Castle in Dresden, again with Wanda Bibrowicz. This particular relationship between Wislicenus and Bibrowicz proved to be a particularly creative one, particularly during the period when both were working in Dresden after Wislicenus had retired from his position at Breslau and indeed from his career in teaching in general.

Unfortunately, much of the work produced by both Wislicenus and Bibrowicz during their time at the Pillnitz Castle workshops was destroyed during the Second World War when much of Dresden was obliterated. However, even some of the earlier work that he produced while in Silesia, was also destroyed in the war. It has been estimated that half of the work produced by Wislicenus over his lifetime was lost during the Second World War.

I am unclear as to the fate of the two tapestries shown in this article. However, I do know that they were both produced in Breslau and were designed by Wislicenus and produced by Bibrowicz. They were reproduced as black and white illustrations in a late 1914 edition of the influential German magazine Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration.

Reference links:
Bildwirker: Wanda Bibrowicz, Paul Thiersch, Wladimir Lindenberg, Jean Lurçat, Ida Kerkovius, Max Wislicenus, Pasquier Grenier, Woty Werner (German Edition)
Künstler Der Moderne: Pablo Picasso, Ernst Wilhelm Nay, Constantin Brâncusi, P. Walter Jacob, Drago Druskovic, Hernando León, Wanda Bibrowicz (German Edition)
Tapestry Weaving: A Comprehensive Study Guide
Embroidery and Tapestry Weaving
Line in Tapestry
The Guide to Successful Tapestry Weaving
The Complete Book of Tapestry Weaving 

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