Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Rug Design Work by Otto Prutscher

Illustration: Otto Prutscher. Rug design (detail), c1911.

The Austrian designer Otto Prutscher is well known for his personal design style, that some see as being closely allied to that of both Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstatte, namely that of a paired down and simplified geometrical styling that in some respects at least was aligned with that of early Modernism. However, nothing is ever quite as simple and straightforward as design and decorative history would like it to be and the example of these three carpets are a case in point.

All three designs were produced by Prutscher in about 1911 while he was still working as a member of the Wiener Werkstatte. They are perhaps some way from the minimal offerings that we would immediately expect from the Werkstatte, although the movement was always a fairly broad grouping of individuals who were from various ethnic and regional areas of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and therefore the work was often flavoured by those diverse backgrounds. Prutscher himself was born and raised in Vienna and so the design work on these particular pieces would have had to have been influenced from another source.

Illustration: Otto Prutscher. Rug design, c1911.

In actual fact the carpet designs illustrated here are a strange combination of both the traditional carpeting that might well be seen in the markets of Iran and Central Asia along with some of the abstracted decorative work that might more readily be seen within the output of the Wiener Werkstatte. These extraordinarily complex carpets, both decoratively and culturally, straddle two distinctively and individualistic decorative formulas.

The standard layout of the compositions of each of the carpets ties them in quite adequately with what are conceived as 'oriental' carpets. They all have a large central medallion, and all bar one are surrounded by a large rectangular border. All have fully abstracted patterns with no noticeable representational figures. What is slightly different can be seen in the close up illustration of one of the carpets. This gives detailing that can clearly be identified with both Vienna and more exactly the Wiener Werkstatte. The complex pattern work is reminiscent of both Josef Hoffmann and indeed Gustav Klimt and so ties Prutscher's carpets into the mainframe of contemporary Central European design work of the early twentieth century while still paying homage to the old and grand tradition of Central Asia.

Illustration: Otto Prutscher. Rug design, c1911.

It is the marrying of tradition with contemporary, along with the traditions of two distinct and unique cultures that makes these three carpet examples so intriguing. To be fair they are by no means the first and will no doubt not be the last cross-cultural examples. William Morris produced somewhat similar examples in the nineteenth century marrying the then contemporary decorative work of the English Arts & Crafts movement alsong with the older traditions of Central Asian carpet production.

What is particularly interesting is the level of pattern work shown on Prutscher's examples. We are used to seeing our own contemporary examples of cross-cultural work, but they are often of the obliquely abstract variety with a minimum of decoration and tend towards minimal abstract tapestry design rather than carpet or rug work. It would be interesting to see a real combination of the two worlds, and although Prutscher's carpet decorative examples of 1911 are clearly only an example of his interest in the scope of the traditional and the contemporary, they are still intriguing ideas as to the endless possibilities of pattern. They give us the distinct feeling that we have still only scratched the surface of future possibilities.

Illustration: Otto Prutscher, c1910.

Reference links:
Oriental Carpet Design: A Guide to Traditional Motifs, Patterns and Symbols
Carpet and Textile Patterns
Rugs & Carpets: Techniques, Traditions & Designs
Art Deco and Modernist Carpets
Oriental Carpet Designs in Full Color (Dover Pictorial Archives)
Oriental Carpet Design
Persian Carpet Designs (International Design Library)
Oriental Carpet Designs in Full Color
Textiles of the Wiener Werkstatte 1910-1932
Wonderful Wiener Werkstatte: Design in Vienna 1903-1932
Wiener Werkstatte, 1903-1932

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