Curator's Choice: September 2011

Curator's Choice

September 23, 2011

Dagobert Peche (1887-1923)
Mirror Frame, 1922
Lindenwood, carved, painted, and gilt
Neue Galerie New York

Dagobert Peche was one of the most gifted artists affiliated with the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops). At the insistence of his father, he studied to be an architect although he never worked as one professionally. Nonetheless, his practical training at Vienna’s Technische Hochschule (College of Technology) and later the Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) served him well, particularly in securing important professional connections.

Early in his career, Peche was influenced by the graphic work of the English artist Aubrey Beardsley. His work is marked by an ornamental decadence and references to Greek mythology. After meeting architect Josef Hoffmann at a birthday dinner honoring Otto Wagner, he began offering designs to the Wiener Werkstätte in 1911. Peche officially joined as a member of the firm in 1915 and quickly demonstrated his facility as a designer in all media, from textiles to wallpaper and from jewelry to glass. In 1922, the Wiener Werkstätte established a relationship with the frame producer Max Welz. Peche subsequently created a series of highly inventive mirror frames, each more lavish than its predecessor: hand-carved, gilt-framed, and occasionally painted as well. As with most of Peche objects, the functional purpose is completely subservient to his artistic vision. Peche’s works often display an unexpected whimsical flair. One writer noted that his objects were not designed "for the average person, but more for the reception rooms of the ladies of leisure and for the decadent class of the super-rich." When he died in April 1923 at the age of thirty-six, Josef Hoffmann, who was a co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte, lamented the loss, "Dagobert Peche was the greatest ornamental genius Austria has produced since the Baroque."