COLLECTING
Thomaï Serdari on Fine Arts & Luxury
Viennese Luxury
Josef Hoffmann. Toiletry Set, Wiener Werkstätte, 1905. Courtesy of Dorotheum.

Josef Hoffmann. Toiletry Set, Wiener Werkstätte, 1905. Courtesy of Dorotheum.

The seven-part toiletry set (offered at auction at DOROTHEUM Vienna on May 13, 2013) seems to encapsulate all of Vienna’s essence at the beginning of the twentieth century: Viennese culture and Viennese luxury.

The set was designed in 1905 for Paul Wittgenstein, famous concert pianist, son of Austrian industrialist Karl Wittgenstein and brother of renowned philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. Paul’s music career is in itself the result of a Central European genealogy that includes names such as Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss, all of whom were associated with the Wittgenstein household. In other words, the provenance and history of the set are closely linked to a most prominent Viennese family of remarkable cultural contributions.

In addition, the set was manufactured by the Wiener Werkstätte, great examples of which can be found at The Neue Galerie in New York City. The set is “made of silver and coral, and colorless glass vessels. It comprises a hand mirror, a comb tray, a pin tray, two flasks with inner and outer stoppers, and two powder boxes. All parts are marked with monograms JH and WW, rose mark, Diana’s head mark and assay mark, as well as makers’ marks AM (Alfred Mayer), JW (Josef Wagner) and AE (Adolf Erbrich).” (Described by Dorotheum Specialist: Dr. Julia Blaha)

The set has changed hands only once so far, from the Wittgenstein family to a private American collector. Its history can be documented in records held at the Wiener Werkstätte Archives at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna.

© Thomaï Serdari