Friday, 26 November 2010

Tapestry Design by Urban Janke

 Illustration: Urban Janke. Tapestry design, c1908.

The Wiener Werkstatte designer Urban Janke was born in Bohemia in what was to become Czechoslovakia and then later the Czech Republic. Although he was mostly employed as an educator, working in the Arts and Crafts School system from 1908, he was also involved in a number of craft disciplines, producing work in illustration, glass and textiles. Although Janke's glasswork is still available and can be found at auction, as well as a selection of postcard work that he produced during the 1910s, which although now somewhat fragile is still cropping up regularly at auction, there is little in the way of surviving textile work.

This tapestry piece which was illustrated in a 1908 edition of the German magazine Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, seems to be one of the few images of Janke's textile work that survives. It is an extremely well decorated piece that easily manages to integrate both pattern work and a representational character, in this case a stylised stag. Pattern work in its many forms was an important part of the output of the Wiener Werkstatte. Surface decoration played a role in most of the craft forms that the Werkstatte produced whether that be furniture, glass, ceramics or textiles. It was this dependence on pattern that in some ways at least, helped to separate and identify the Wiener Werkstatte as a truly original and individual style that was exclusive to Vienna.

The Werkstatte was in many respects a reflection of the multi-ethnicity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Many designers were included in the organization from all corners of the Empire and all brought significant amounts of localised pattern and decorative energy to Vienna. That Janke was originally from Blottendorf, modern day Polevsko, in Bohemia is significant. Blottendorf was at the centre of a long tradition of glass painters, engravers and cutters that went back to the seventeenth century, and possibly before. That Janke was influenced by these surroundings and particularly by the local craft skill of glass, despite the fact that he studied at the Arts & Crafts School in Vienna, and not locally, adds to the suggestion that localised skills and decorative styles had an effect on a number of Wiener Werkstatte designers, which in turn would have affected, if discreetly, the overall imagery of the Werkstatte and its own decorative style.

Illustration: Urban Janke. Decorated glassware, c1914.

Because Janke's textile work is very hard to locate, included in this article is a second illustration of a piece of his decorated glass work and gives at least some indication as to the style of work that can be attributed to Janke. This is a decorated glass piece that was reproduced in a 1914 issue of a second German magazine Dekorative Kunst. This piece perhaps gives more of an idea as to Janke's penchant for decorative pattern work, and also his obvious and mature understanding of decoration and the positive effect it could have in contributing towards the look and style of a piece.

Unfortunately Janke died in the same year that the Dekorative Kunst article was published. He was an early casualty of the First World War, dying before he was even thirty. It is unknown what real direction Janke would have taken had he survived the war. He was an excellent graphic and illustrative artist, as well as being a designer of numerous glass pieces for such companies as the Austrian glass company J & L Lobmeyr for which the illustrated glass piece was produced. He was also a founder member of the Austrian Werkbund set up in 1912. Although similar in many respects, and with equally staged ambitions to that of the German Werkbund, namely closer integration between industry and designer, the Austrian version was much less exclusive and elitist.

As well as his participation in the Wiener Werkstatte, along with his teaching career it is hard to tell where Janke would have reached creatively, if he had been allowed to live a full life. However, one thing is certain he would easily have maintained a career that would have added at least some of his individual creative dimension towards the decorative arts history of Central Europe.

Reference links:
Wiener Werkstatte: 1903-1932 (Special Edition)
Wiener Werkstatte: Design in Vienna 1903-1932
Textiles of the Wiener Werkstatte: 1910-1932
Viennese Design and the Wiener Werkstatte
Postcards of the Wiener Werkstatte
Wonderful Wiener Werkstatte: Design in Vienna 1903-1932
Wiener Werkstatte: Avantgarde, Art Deco, Industrial Design (German Edition)
A Guide to Czech & Slovak Glass

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