Thursday, 14 October 2010

Textile Design by Bernhard Wenig

Illustration: Bernhard Wenig, Textile design, c1901.

The textile designs produced by the German illustrator and graphic artist and designer Bernhard Wenig, give a good indication as to how wide the real scope of the generalised Art Nouveau movement was in Europe at the very beginning of the twentieth century. All four designs were produced in around 1901 and are fine examples of a fairly rapid repeat pattern that was to some extent a speciality of German surface pattern during this period.

These design examples pay little homage to the more exuberant representations, especially those derived from France and Belgium. There is very little trace of any form of naturalised floral work or the stylised and some would say affected, decorative features that would be expected from Art Nouveau work. However, they do reproduce a certain element of the movement as can be seen in both their generally curved motifs and the high level of graphic rather than representational nature of the composition.

Illustration: Bernhard Wenig. Textile design, c1901.

While trying to interpret the design work of Wenig it must of course be remembered that he was very much part of the illustration and graphics world where he regularly produced art work for book illustration as well as regular magazine work. The work he produced for Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration seems to have repaid his investment as these textile designs produced by him were also featured in the same magazine.

Although taking Wenig's illustrative career into account, there is still a large element of this particular style of surface pattern that can be seen widely throughout the German decorative arts at the beginning of the twentieth century. These tight, almost claustrophobically repeated patterns often using very simple motifs that were constantly and unstintingly reproduced across fabrics, gave the impression that they were machine produced. This can be misleading as some indeed were released as design work for industry. However, others could just as easily have end up as hand crafted fabrics, but with the same seemingly mass produced pattern work.

Illustration: Bernhard Wenig. Textile design, c1901.

Much of the design work, certainly as the pieces in this article show, were continual, meaning that they were not isolated motifs but all went to form a continual pattern throughout the fabric. However, this was by no means a universal rule, as motifs could also take on the appearance of a stamp where one individual motif would be repeated constantly and without change throughout the fabric.

These were by no means an invention by German designers, as they can be seen more or less universally across the planet within different cultures and time lines. However, it is interesting that so much of this style of work was reproduced in Germany within such a short space of time and leads to questions behind the use of this type of repetitive work, when other areas of Europe were being much more expansive in their decorative pattern work.

Illustration: Bernhard Wenig. Textile design, c1901.

It should not be thought that this form of pattern work was by any means boring or through its unrelentingly repetitive nature, monotonous. Much of the fabric produced with this small repetitive motif worked just as well within interior schemes as the much larger and more obvious Art Nouveau examples. There is an element of both practicality and rationalisation within these particular design pieces and it might well have been a fairly important factor in a German creative system that was attempting to both take stock of and to reinterpret a whole host of decorative and design led issues concerning the designer and industry.

If nothing else, the textile design work of Bernhard Wenig shows yet another aspect of the Art Nouveau movement and its wide-ranging nature. To limit the description of Art Nouveau to that of the whiplash is misleading and restrictive.  The movement due to its international status and position in the history of the decorative arts was much more complex and therefore inhabited a much broader base that is sometimes allowed for.

Reference links:
Jugendstil =: Art Nouveau (German Edition)
Art Nouveau in Munich: Masters of the Jugendstil
Kandinsky in Munich: The Formative Jugendstil Years
Art nouveau from Germany : an exhibition presented by the Goethe Intitutes, London, Manchester, Glasgow and Dublin, in association with the National Book ... Library, Glasgow, the National Library ...
Modern Style: Jugendstil/Art Nouveau 1899-1905
Schmuck in Deutschland und Osterreich, 1895-1914: Symbolismus, Jugendstil, Neohistorismus (Materialien zur Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts) (German Edition)
Jakob Julius Scharvogel: Keramiker des Jugendstils

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