A Matter of Taste

Exemplary Design around 1900

Calyx-shaped bowl (1900) by Torolf Prytz for Emil SaeterLandesmuseum Württemberg

Taste – What is it and who defines it?

Matters of taste are well-known for being arguable – but is this really the case? This question provides the basis for the exhibition "A Matter of Taste: Exemplary Design around 1900". It deals with the cultivation of taste in earlier times and how it was practiced and implemented.

While taste refers to a physical sensorial capacity, it also describes a faculty for aesthetic discernment. However, is having a good taste an inborn ability or is it rather something that can be learned? Ultimately, who determines the parameters of good and bad taste?

Man-shaped clock (ca. 1860)Landesmuseum Württemberg

The former Landesgewerbemuseum in Stuttgart concerned itself with questions referring to good taste and aesthetic education. In your eyes, which objects drawn from around the year 1900 can still be described as tasteful and why?

Front view of the Landesgewerbemuseum in Stuttgart (1896) by Peter Schnorr (Drawing), Hofkunstanstalt Martin Rommel & Co (Print)Landesmuseum Württemberg

The Cultivation of Taste around 1900

The Landesgewerbemuseum was a significant institution for the cultivation of taste in Württemberg. In 1896, the museum was moved to a prestigious new building. Today, this building is known as the Haus der Wirtschaft.

Ceramics collections of the Landesgewerbemuseum (1896) by Georg Loesti (Zeichnung), Hofkunstanstalt Martin Rommel & Co (Lichtdruck)Landesmuseum Württemberg

The Collections of the Landesgewerbemuseum

Exemplary objects were collected from across the world and presented in the museum. They were meant to inspire the public. Producers and consumers were afforded the opportunity to see what constituted good taste.

By studying these supposedly superlative objects and their technical and aesthetic qualities, it was hoped that the Württemberg economy would be spurred towards new levels of international competition.

Toy duck (1922) by Paul GrießerLandesmuseum Württemberg

Abstraction vs. Naturalism

Whether the form of a particular design would earn favour and be regarded as tasteful is dependent on the times and the prevalent circumstances. What do you prefer? Abstract and simple or naturalistic and ornamented?

This small toy duck with its clear contours and simplified shape was once regarded as exemplary. With this object, Paul Grießer won a wood-turning competition organized by the Staatliche Kunstgewerbeschule in Stuttgart in 1922.

Piggy bank with an image of the Old Castle (Altes Schloss) in Stuttgart (1900–1925)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Contrary to this positive example, the small money box in the shape of a pig was exhibited in the so-called Collection of Taste Aberrations which was founded in 1909. It was presented in the category of “Foreign Souvenir Kitsch”.

Toy chick (ca. 1927) by Waldorf-SpielzeugverlagLandesmuseum Württemberg

The Cultivation of Taste starts in the Nursery …

Image composition cutlery: gilded cutlery with handles from Meissen porcelain; silver Secession cutlery; cutlery "Iconic" (1730–2018) by Royal-Saxonian Porcelain Manufactory, Meissen; Richard Riemerschmid for Bruckmann & Sons; Michael Michalsky for WMFLandesmuseum Württemberg

Taste and social Belonging

The elements of good taste are defined within the context of a social group. The way in which we are raised, our social environment and the time in which we live, profoundly influence our assessment of objects and the ascribing of the term "tasteful" to some of them.

In doing so, various opportunities are provided where seemingly good taste can be demonstrated, thereby indicating the individual's group affiliation.

Material Value

It was not just the appearance of this luxurious cutlery that made it so popular among the aristocracy in the 18th century; its material value was also a contributing factor. It captivated through its gilding and its handles fashioned from Meissen porcelain.

Design Excellence

In the 19th century, the bourgeoisie became societal forerunners and placed great importance on the design of everyday products. Products such as this Art Nouveau cutlery designed by the architect Richard Riemerschmid enjoyed great popularity at the turn of the 20th century.

Well-Known Brands

In today's world, it is not just attractive design and expensive materials that play a role in the choice of products – renowned brands and names are also sought after.

The success of the cutlery set "Iconic" is not least based on its well-known producer WMF and its renowned German designer, Michael Michalsky.

Fortepiano (1900) by Schiedmayer Pianofortefabrik: Robert Knorr (inlay work - Design), Co. Georg Wölfel (Production)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Middle-Class Splendour around 1900

This large fortepiano is an excellent example of how the convergence of expensive materials, exceptional design and well-known brand names can contribute to a product's success. The rich inlay work of precious woods, nacre, metal, lapis lazuli and ivory was produced by the company Wölfel after a design by Robert Knorr. The Stuttgart enterprise Schiedmayer Pianofortefabrik were responsible for building and assembling the piano.

This showpiece was first exhibited as part of a “Württemberg Music Room” at the 1900 World’s Exposition in Paris where it won a price.

Vase with four handles (1900) by Haagse Plateelbakkerij RozenburgLandesmuseum Württemberg

Changes in Taste

The assessment regarding what is generally accepted as tasteful changes through the course of time. Around the year 1900, a change in taste occurred which affected all objects of everyday life.

Art Nouveau, which had reached its apex at the time, incorporated curved lines, floral elements and animal representations.

Silver vase with cutout decor (1910) by Eduard Wimmer-Wisgrill (Wiener Werkstätte)Landesmuseum Württemberg

The high silver vase was produced by the Wiener Werkstätte in 1910 and displays abstracted small-scale ornamentation and leaf patterns.

Vase made of enamel (1928) by Hans Warnecke (Design), Lotte Feickert (Production)Landesmuseum Württemberg

Later in the 1920s, form was expected to follow the object's function. Accordingly, the vase produced by the Frankfurter Kunstgewerbeschule, is free of any ornamental decoration.

Dragon-shaped inkstand (before 1896) by Karl Paul Marcus (Königliche Hofkunstschlosserei Berlin)Landesmuseum Württemberg

From the tasteful to the tasteless Product

This dragon-shaped inkstand provides an example of how quickly tastes can change. The Landesgewerbemuseum acquired it in 1896 from the Königliche Hofkunstschlosserei in Berlin.

It was designed in accordance with the historicist style that was prevalent at the time, and thus was regarded as an exemplary product. Starting in 1909 however, it was judged negatively and considered an aberration of taste. Its exuberant decor was thought to obscure the object's function as an inkwell.

As a consequence, it became incorporated into the Landesgewerbemuseum's newly established "Collection of Taste Aberrations".

Dragon-shaped inkstand (before 1896) by Karl Paul Marcus (Königliche Hofkunstschlosserei Berlin)Landesmuseum Württemberg

One Material, Many Design Possibilities

In designing a product, designers deliberate over the form and function of an object. A single raw material can be worked using many different techniques, continuously providing new possibilities in design. These two objects provide examples of that.

Whereas the bowl from 1906, created by the well-known designer Henry van de Velde, is distinguished by its smooth and bare surfaces, the metal bowl from the 1890s is embellished with detailed mouldings and a decor which imitates a napkin.

Round metal bowl, Henry van de Velde (Design), Co. Theodor Müller (Production), 1906, From the collection of: Landesmuseum Württemberg
Metal bowl with a decor imitating a napkin, before 1893, From the collection of: Landesmuseum Württemberg
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Textile sample books (from 1844) by Karl Wilhelm WeigleLandesmuseum Württemberg

Sources of Inspiration for Designers

How did designers back then decide on the form their products took? In the past, museums such as the Landesgewerbemuseum in Stuttgart were important starting points where the visitor could draw inspiration. Exemplary articles and pattern books served as stimulating resources. The textile sample book presented here shows model possibilities for textile design.

Textile sample book (from 1844) by Karl Wilhelm WeigleLandesmuseum Württemberg

Pinterest collection of textiles (2021) by Ruth EggerLandesmuseum Württemberg

Present-day Collections of tasteful Products

How do contemporary designers collect ideas for the sketching out of their latest products? Besides the possibilities of visiting museums or collecting patterns in a portfolio, ideas can be drawn online from websites such as Pinterest today.

Digital mood boards allow for designers and consumers to retain and manage their sources of inspiration, and present what they consider to be tasteful and modern.

Credits: Story

Concept/text: Ruth Egger

Editorial work/realization; Anna Gnyp

English translation: Marcus Berendsen

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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