Biedermeier and Empire
The Viennese Modern movement


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Discover furniture and interiors from the period of Historicism in the Vienna Furniture Museum.

During the Historicist era, when the Ringstrasse was constructed, Vienna witnessed a new flourishing of the arts, comparable to that of the Baroque age. From the middle of the nineteenth century, the magnificent new boulevard became a place where a whole epoch paraded itself in all its glory. The stylistic eras of the past were referenced not only in the grand public buildings and palaces but also their furnishings.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, interiors drew on earlier styles in an arbitrary ‘pick-and-mix’ of combinations. The Viennese court favoured the Rococo from the age of Maria Theresa, while the fashion among the city’s rising middle classes was for large, heavy neo-Renaissance or neo-Baroque furniture embellished with columns, Medusa’s heads and acanthus leaves, or gentlemen’s smoking rooms and dining rooms in ‘Old German’ style.

This often resulted in gloomy, cluttered rooms or bizarre excrescences such as ‘hunting rooms’ with furniture made from deer antlers. The Imperial Furniture Collection has a particularly impressive example of a late-Historicist interior in the Armorial Hall, a library conceived in homage to Emperor Franz Joseph.

Unaffected by the stylistic issues of Historicism, the cabinet-maker Thonet developed his famous bentwood furniture – ultra-modern products that were so far in advance of their times that his steam-bending techniques were later revived by the leading designers of the Viennese Modern movement.