Fork (Germany), 1901
This design is from one of the most important early modernist flatware sets by one of the most important leaders of the Vienna Secession, Joseph Maria Olbrich. Olbrich was a brilliant Austrian architect and designer who joined forces with Josef Hoffmann and other Vienna Secessionists, worked under Otto Wagner in the 1890s and, in 1899, moved to Darmstadt at the invitation of the Duke of Hesse. Olbrich’s major commissions included the Secession Building, Vienna, Austria; Café Niedermeyer, Troppau, Austria (modern-day Opava, Czech Republic); and the Ernst Ludwig House, the Olbrich House, and the exhibition buildings at the influential Darmstadt Artists' Colony.
The fork, knife, and spoon appear to be from the original set of flatware designed by Olbrich in 1901 for use in his own house at the Darmstadt Artists' Colony. Each piece has Olbrich's monogram, a stylized "JO" in a square reserve, on the reverse side of its handle. The knife and fork can be seen on the table in a photograph of the Olbrich House dining room. Olbrich’s generously proportioned fork and spoon have long tapering handles and a relief decoration of abstract, lobular form (somewhat suggestive of 17th-century auricular design). The commanding knife has an unusual scalpel-shaped blade and an asymmetrically-shaped handle engraved with ovals and a leafy sprig.
The set was made by Christofle of Paris, but differs significantly from the design as advertised in Christofle's 1901 catalog, in which it is labelled “Modernes Besteck, Muster Olbrich Nr. 5920a.” The catalogue illustration shows an altered knife blade that replaced Olbrich's original design with a more standard Christofle blade. Disagreements between Olbrich and Christofle over the blade change put an end to production of the set at the time. A later Christofle issue of the design, called “Besteck Muster-Nr. 9357 'Modell Louvre,’” was produced in 1925. The contours of this set were smoothed out, the ornamental engraving eliminated, and the knife blade altered again.
The cutlery set proposed for acquisition would be the first set of objects designed by Olbrich in the museum’s collection.
 Joseph Maria Olbrich, Peter Haiko, Bernd Krimmel, and Renate Ulmer, Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1988), 18.
Reinhard Sänger, Das deutsche Silber-Besteck: Biedermeier, Historismus, Jugendstil (1805-1918): Firmen, Techniken, Designer und Dekore (Stuttgart: Arnoldsche, 1991), 170-74.
It is credited
Museum purchase through gift of Christie's in honor of Joseph Holtzman.
Its dimensions are
L x W x D: 21.8 x 2.5 x 1.8 cm (8 9/16 x 1 x 11/16 in.)
It has the following markings
Underside, near end of handle: JO monogram (for Joseph Olbrich) in square. Stamped CHRISTOFLE and with an inidendified (import/export) mark.
Cite this object as
Fork (Germany), 1901; Manufactured by Christofle (France); silver-plated metal; L x W x D: 21.8 x 2.5 x 1.8 cm (8 9/16 x 1 x 11/16 in.); Museum purchase through gift of Christie's in honor of Joseph Holtzman; 2001-12-1
This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005.