Deutschland gegen Frankreich: Der Kampf um den Stil


Deutschland gegen Frankreich: Der Kampf um den Stil, Bröhan Museum 

On 16th June 2016, we visited the Bröhan Museum to view the exhibition ‘Germany against France: The struggle over style, 1900 – 1930’

Our guided tour begins in a room which has two contrasting wardrobes in its center, representing the contrast between German Jugendstil and French Art Nouveau. While the French style represents the product designers as artists, who create expensive ornamental, decorative and one-of-a-kind pieces, the German style emphasises on a practical and more affordable, machine built IKEA-style constructions developed by engineers. The latter approach has proven its durability over time and is still used today, while the French delicate furnitures can mostly be found exhibited and untouched.

Note about exhibition design: Objects are showcased on black backdrop and homogenous lighting, which is ideal for presentational purposes but not in a person’s home. Another interesting point, which has also sparked disagreement among the museum staff are the printed writings stuck to the walls with a single piece of blue tape – a strong contrastcontrast to te finised style of the furnitures.

Ecole de Nancy 
The School of Nancy was central to artistic development in the Art Nouveau age of France. It was formed by Lorraine artists, craftsmen and architects, who created luxury handmade wooden furnitures and glasswork imitating nature. They were also influenced by japanese design, also referred
to as Japonismus, and were known for signing their furniture like a painter would.

A royal named Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hessen, who was fond of modern art, founded an artist colony in Mathildenhoehe. He invited 7 artists, including Behrens, Buerck, Bosselt and Huber, to design a city based on the principles of “Gesamtkunstwerk”, which was a popular design-ideology in Germany. The artists would design everything from houses to furniture and small everyday objects to achieve ultimate consistency of everything designed. His goal of building this cult, as to reet is wealth and increase economy, however the emphasis on beauty of the designed objects defied their function and failed to serve people in their every- day lives. The houses also turned out to be too expensive for anyone to buy and the city has been abandoned by the seven artists, leaving it for future visitors to see.

Berlin: Functionalism 
Modernism in Berlin started with classical functionalism, lead
by Alfred Grenader and Bruno Moehring, who are both known for their architecture such as Hermannplatz and Bülowstrasse U-bahn stations. Based on military structure, their style emphases the new steel manufacturing and deliberately opposed french design by revealing the under- lying construction to the public eye. As part o te final design te included ornamental elements (influence of the french Art Nouveau), but more sparingly and usually with a function behind it.

The French hated showing steel construction and preferred the imitation of nature, which they interpreted as beauty. Hector Guimard created decorative paradisiacal gar- den-like entrances for the Paris Metro, which opened in 1900. At this time Art Nouveau set aesthetic standards and France became one of Europe’s most advanced country.

Berlin: Industrial Design
In 1907, Peter Behrens was named the art consultant of AEG (Allgemeine Elektricitäts- Gesellschaft), and although he was not an ‘absolute designer’, he transferred his focus to the function of objects and created forms for things which didn’t exist before, such as kettle, fan, architecture, worker’s clothes. By unification of his designs he developed a signature style, by this giving birth to corporate identity. Heinrich Vogeler has attempted to serve the needs of poor workers by setting up a furniture factory with his brother. He created simple machine-built furnitures with hand- crafted ornamentals. Unfortunately he was not successful as his products were still
too expensive for the low-earning people.

Art Deco 
German and French styles became mixed, however after the
war, there was a new division in style. The French became very rich and developed Art Deco, which demanded expensive and delicate materials such as silver, ivory or even fish leather and beautiful furnitures were created for viewings only. We have seen furnitures from Ludwig Troost, Sue et Mare, Bruno Paul and Jacques Emile Ruhlman. Later it was questioned, whether it is crime to use art for the purposes of creating something functional such as furniture.

Deutscher Werkbund
The Germans became poor, but still needed furniture for the newly built apartments after the war, so Ernst May developed a minimalistic modular system
for furnitures, called Moebel Schuster. Another notable design is the Frankfurter kitchen designed by Schuette-Lihotzky and strongly influenced by Bauhaus. She designed in a peculiar way, playing out kitchen scenarios and drawing the lines she walked on the floor. She created the very first built-in kitchen, which featured labeled metal drawers (not so successful) and wooden drawers from softwood (for salt) and cedric (or our) is is one of the most sought after element by furniture design collectors and hunters.

Comment: In many ways German and French styles have deliberately opposed or criticised the other style, but have also taken inspiration and have realised the flaws in their own designs. According to the French “ There is always a group of elite creatives who invent designs for the rest of the people.” however the German mentality states that “If it works for the elite, then it can be mass-produced.”

Sophia Tai
Bildnachweis Prof. Ulrich Schwarz