Josef Hoffman belonged to an elite group of designer, industrialists and thinkers who left a profound impact on modern design despite falling into obscurity by his death.
Hoffman, most famous in furniture design for his geometric Kubus armchair, was born in what is now the Czech Republic, but was considered an Austrian architect and furniture designer. His early designs profoundly impacted and even set the tone for 20th Century modern design and architecture.
Hoffman spent several years in school studying, most notably at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna before founding the Vienna Succession in the late 19th century.
At Vienna, he studied under the great architect Otto Wagner who was known for his work in the Art Nouveau genre. Wagner, another great early 19th century architect, had a profound influence on Hoffman as an architect and furniture designer during his tenure in working for Wagner. Before moving forward with the Vienna Succession.
The Vienna Succession was essentially a union of Austrian artists who had broken off from a larger Association. Hoffman then began teaching and collaborating with other artists on architectural and interior design projects.
Hoffman helped begin the move away from Traditional and Baroque styles in the early 1900s with an influence on the move to minimalist and functional modern design. His influence was best personified by his designs on the Sanatorium Purkersdorf.
The simplicity infused into this modern project compared to former designs influenced great furniture designers and architects such as Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, Gio Ponti and Carlo Scarpa, who all held Hoffman in esteem for his influence on the changes in design. Despite this, Hoffman is not widely known.
Hoffman continued to pick up various design projects before becoming a co-founder of the Deutscher Werkbund, a well-known German association that brought together artists, achietects, designers, furniture makers that later greatly influenced modern design projects worldwide as these leaders spread their modern design influence across international waters. This group of architects and business firms brought with them influence, including Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe, a famous furniture designer and architect, also known world-wide for his profound influence on modern design techniques.
It was during his time when he founded the Wiener Werkstatte for decorative arts when most of Hoffman’s contributions to modern furniture design and accessories came. During this time was when he made a multitude of chairs as well as a few other contemporary accessories that were losing the traditional Baroque accents in favor of a more modern, simple, minimalist style of furniture creation.
Key pieces that Hoffman made in addition to the Kubus armchair include other designer chairs such as the Sitzmaschine Chair, a lamp, glasses, tea set, a cutlery set as well a number of other chairs, including: Purkersdorf Armchair, Kuntstschau Armchair, Palais Stoclet Armchair, Fledermaus Chair, Siebenkugelstuhl Chair, Armloffel Chair, Club chair and the Haus Koller Chair.
According to the Museum of Modern Art, Hoffman’s career spanned more than 50 years. MOMA also said that Hoffman “relied on his intuition to produce works that were unmistakably his own in their formal and compositional treatment, yet mirrored all stylistic changes in the European architectural scene.” (http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=2694).
Hoffman, and the artists and designers he surrounded himself wanted to bring a more geometric feel to the furniture and allow function and abstraction dictate the way of design. Others have noted Hoffman as an additional influence to the Modern and Art Deco movements despite his lack of notoriety. As a precursor to today’s interior decorater, Hoffman used the Wiener Werkstatte to make the art of decoration a respected career, to give worth to the field of decorative arts.