Sunday, 29 April 2012

Mosaics by Puhl & Wagner

Since their formation in 1889, the Berlin company Puhl & Wagner was one of the most important companies for glass mosaics and glass windows in Germany. By manufacturing their own mosaic pieces in their glass factory and by developing a new technique of laying the small mosaic pieces they were able to reduce the manufacturing costs considerably and, in consequence, to establish their market leadership.

Signet of Puhl & Wagner, mosaic of Fritz Dernburg

In 1914, they merged with the stained glass company of Gottfried Heinersdorff, whose involvement in the Art Nouveau movement (especially the Deutsche Werkbund) promised to have a positive impact on the artistic quality of the company's production. But, due to unresolved differences between August Wagner and Gottfried Heinersdorff, these efforts of reforming the company's production artistically were short lived. During the Third Reich, the company was commissioned to decorate a number of buildings for the National socialists and was even able to survive the years after the Second World War. But, due to a diminished interest in glass mosaics and stained glass works, the company had to close its doors in 1969. (For further information check the comprehensive article at Wikipedia).

Tomb of Fritz Dernburg

Quite fortunately, some of the mosaics P&W executed in the late 19th and early 20th century survived the destruction of the war. One of them can be found at the cemetery Grunewald on Bornstedter Street 11/12, Berlin. It commemorates the death of Fritz Dernburg who died in infancy, in 1895. The large mosaic that even nowadays has lost nothing of its colourful vibrancy was designed by the artist Max Seliger (1865-1920), the brother of Fritz's mother, who designed a number of mosaics and murals throughout his career.

Mosaic, tomb of Fritz Dernberg

It depicts two women next to an altar which is inscribed with a quote from the Bible: "Love never ends" ("Die Liebe höret nimmer auf, Corinthians 13,8). One of the woman places a vase with red tulips on the altar, the other plucks the strings of a harp which a sad looking cherub clutches in his chubby fingers.

Detail of the mosaic, tomb of Fritz Dernberg
Detail of the mosaic, tomb of Fritz Dernberg
Detail of the mosaic, tomb of Fritz Dernberg
Detail of the mosaic, tomb of Fritz Dernberg

Both women, though dressed in stylised white robes, are more portraits than allegories, and contemporary sources identify them as Fritz's mother, Emma Dernburg, and her sister. The decorative flowers in the background, especially the lilies, are most probably influenced by William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement which was widely known in Germany at the time.

Detail of the mosaic, tomb of Fritz Dernberg

The second mural, nowadays on the facade of the building in Königsallee 15, Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf, Berlin, shows a historical scene: a hunting party with Elector Joachim II and the hunting château of Grunewald in the background (inscribed "Aufbruch zur Jagd unter Kurfürst Joachim II vom Jagdschloss Grunewald").

Mosaic, Königsallee 15

The design was made by the artist Max Koch for the railroad bridge at Hohenzollerndamm in 1910 and executed by P&W in the same year.

Mosaic as it originally was at the Hohenzollern bridge

When the bridge was demolished in 1950, only one of the former two mosaics was rescued and re-done - with an alteration to the upper part of the image - on the aforementioned facade in 1963. The mosaic depicting the surrender of Teltow was lost. There is little known about the artist Max Koch, but his design shows some similarity to the works of Maximilian Liebenwein and other Art Nouveau illustrators that might have been of some influence.

Detail of the mosaic, Königsallee 15
Detail of the mosaic, Königsallee 15
Detail of the mosaic, Königsallee 15

As with the mosaic for Fritz Dernburg, Koch's hunting scene is a compelling work of art that profits widely from P&W's execution and the quality of their laying technique as well as their glass mosaic pieces.

Detail of the mosaic, Königsallee 15

No comments: