This table forms part of the original furnishings from Hoffmann’s commission of 1901-02 for Gustav Pollak’s apartment at Brahmsplatz 2, Vienna. As such, its execution predates the founding of the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903 and its rediscovery is a welcome addition to the scarce extant works known by Hoffmann in this critical period of his work. Its juxtaposition of a strict geometry of design against the considered use of high calibre materials, combined with exquisite execution by the leading Viennese cabinetmakers Portois & Fix, characterise and exemplify Hoffmann’s ideals amongst the creative uprising of the hugely influential Vienna Secession.
Hoffmann was born in Moravia in 1870 and at 22 studied architecture at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts. From 1894 he was taught by the great Viennese innovator Otto Wagner and, indeed, joined Wagner’s office in 1897. In 1898 he exhibited at the second Secessionist exhibition and the following year, at the age of 29, was appointed Professor at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Art). Soon his work was attracting both domestic and international acclaim, notably that received for his Secession rooms exhibited at the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle. Ministerial Secretary Dr Gustav Pollak was amongst his very first clients, commissioning Hoffmann to create a smoking room and a study in 1899-1900 in a building at Wienerstraße 117 (see E. Seckler, Josef Hoffmann, The Architectural Work, Guildford, 1985, p. 260). In 1901, at the age of 31, Hoffmann was commissioned by Pollak to furnish three rooms at his Brahmsplatz apartment, the current table forming part of the furniture for the study, where the use of dark rich timbers with ornamental inlays contrasted with the less opulent fittings for an ante-room (the furniture coloured in tones of grey and blue) and a dining room (furnished in pitch pine with inlays). The present lots is amongst his earliest works to have moved away from his previous style of ‘arching curvilinearity’ to embrace the ordered clarity of proportion for which he is so revered today.