Friday, July 31, 2009

Bernhard Pankok Walnut and spruce cupboard

Bernhard Pankok trained as an artist and illustrator in Dusseldorf and Berlin, but it was as a furniture designer that he produced some of his most interesting work.

It was while he was freelancing in the early 1890s as a graphic artist and illustrator in Munich, that he became interested in the English Arts & Crafts movement. This interest and influence was to play a part in Pankok's design work when he took up furniture making on a fairly large scale from 1897 onwards.

The cupboard shown above was produced by Pankok in 1899 for Hermann Obrist's country villa. It is an interesting combination of both the Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau movements. It has elements of the conservative and reserved English style, while at the same time having other elements that place it with the much more flamboyant French Art Nouveau decorative style.

The Art Nouveau period saw much of this crossing over from the Arts & Crafts movement to the new Art Nouveau style and back again. It is sometimes confusing to see an artist or designer tagged with the name of both movements and while contemporary artists and designers were well aware of the new style, they would not necessarily see themselves as part of that movement, even though they might borrow or interpret some of that decorative style to use within their own work.

Pankok himself was a founding member of both the Vereinigte Werkstatten fur Kunst im Handwerk and the Deutsche Werkbund, both organizations that steered closer, despite some fundamental differences, to the philosophy of the English Arts & Crafts movement rather than the French Art Nouveau. However, designers from both organizations were often freely borrowing from the new French style and it's more geometric interpretation from Glasgow and Vienna, but often this was used only to give design work a contemporary feel.

Pankok was not a trained furniture designer, but as an artist and illustrator he brought an expansive element to furniture construction that allowed him to circumvent the conventions of furniture making, leading him to design pieces that were fluid, creative and original.

What the Art Nouveau movement did bring to the world of design was the encouragement in experimentation. Admittedly there were many mistakes and much of the experimentation was often ill advised, but it did create a fertile ground for expanding the parameters of both art and decoration. Perhaps more fundamentally important, was the encouragement the movement made in the crossing over of the traditional boundaries between the mutually exclusive and often antagonistic mediums of art and decoration. The turn of the twentieth century saw a rare moment when the two mutually exclusive worlds of art and decoration were allowed to creatively move relatively freely within each others mediums, and Pankoks furniture design work was one of the the many originally creative results of this freedom of movement.

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