One of the most iconic elements of the mansion was the mosaic frieze that Klimt designed for the dining room. Having experienced several tumultuous years within the Secession Movement that eventually led to his resignation, Klimt was eager to produce a spectacular piece. The frieze and the preliminary drawings, which are today kept in the MAK: Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Arts in Vienna, Austria, are seen as masterpieces from the highpoint of his ‘Golden Phase’ (1899-1910). In his drawings for the monumental Stoclet frieze, Klimt conceptualised three mosaics—Tree of Life, The Expectation and The Knight—when connected represented a complex metaphor. In the centre is a blossoming tree symbolizing the Tree of Life. It is accompanied by two figures to the left and right: a dancer, The Expectation, and an embracing couple, commonly referred to as the ‘fulfilment’ to that expectation. Knight was designed for the small wall of the long dining room while the Tree of Life was mirrored in a mosaic on the second long wall of the room. Between 1905 and 1908, Klimt began his studies for the frieze, submitting the first designs as basis for a contract before the preliminary working drawings in original size. In 1910, according to surviving correspondence, the preliminary drawings were completed and the execution of the mosaic frieze began. In 1911 the frieze was carefully transported from Vienna to Brussels and installed under Klimt’s supervision. The drawings and mosaic frieze were to become the last monumental work Klimt was able to realise before his early death in 1918.
The Viennese art critic Ludwig Hevesi was the first to comment on the Stoclet Palace; he saw the model in the rooms of the Wiener Werkstätte and reported on 8 November 1905, “It is of course a supremely elegant house. In Hoffmannesque white and black, but the white is formed by marble slabs on the walls across the whole building, and the black of the edges is black Swedish granite … as in Purkersdorf, the outside of the house is significantly characterised by a structure with projecting masses.”9 The mansion invariably became a symbol of the Stoclets social standing. As their guest book proclaims, they received members of the artistic avant-garde including Jean Cocteau, Serge Diaghilev, Anatole France, Sacha Guitry, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Darius Milhaud, Karl Ernst Osthaus, and of course Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann. Benjamin viewed the Stoclet Palace as a ‘dream house’. Few things could reproduce the atmosphere of the dining hall at night when a mixture of electric light and candlelight merged against the Stoclet Palace walls. Guests were able to enjoy the amenities afforded to them by the most advanced technology of the time, including electric sockets installed in the marble wall under the frieze, which supplied the energy to warm the rechauds as well as central heating system installed beneath the windows.
The mansion invariably became a symbol of the Stoclets social standing. As their guest book proclaims, they received members of the artistic avant-garde including Jean Cocteau, Serge Diaghilev, Anatole France, Sacha Guitry, Robert Mallet-Stevens, Darius Milhaud, Karl Ernst Osthaus, and of course Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann.
The Stoclet Palace plays an important role in representing a Modernist form of luxury. It not only influenced the style of the French architect Robert Mallet-Stevens (1886-1945), a nephew of Suzanne Stoclet, but also became an iconic symbol of Art Déco style and American Modernist Luxury Architecture from 1920-1950. The synthesis between refined taste and bespoke design principles would only last for two generations and within the possession of the current generation of the Stoclet family. Although under UNESCO World Heritage protection and listed as a Belgian landmark since 1976, the Stoclet Palace has still experienced several cases of thefts as well as structural degeneration. Its future hanging in the balance by the fraught relationship between the four Stoclet grandchildren, who have struggled over conflicting attempts to both preserve and benefit from their grandparents legacy. This brings to question how such a monumental representation of artistic vision could be preserved. Nevertheless, Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet held onto their vision until the end; their obituaries stressing that ‘such puritan grandeur’ demanded an ‘ascetic lifestyle’, indeed a lifestyle that made the very best of the Wiener Werkstätte and Secession Movement possible.10
Images 01—05: Photos courtesy of MAK–Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art. Copyright MAK.
1. “ ... il va de soi que les fleurs—toujours d’un seul ton—sur la table et la cravate de M. Stoclet s’assortissaient sur la toilette de Madame.” quoted in Edmond de Bruyn, ‘Adieu à Monsieur Adolphe Stoclet’ in Le flambeau: revue belge des questions politiques et littéraires, 1918. Bruxelles: Lamertin, p. 3.
2. Georges Teyssot, ‘Traumhaus. L’intérieur comme métaphore des sentiments’, in Andreotti, Libero, Jean-Paul Dollé, Marc Grignon, and Georges Teyssot (eds.), 2011. Spielraum: Walter Benjamin et l’architecture. Paris: Éd. de la Villette.
3. Annette Freytag, ‘Close to Paradise. The Stoclet House: Masterpiece of the Wiener Werkstätte’, in Noever, Peter, Valérie Dufour, Marc Hotermans, Heimo Zobernig, and Eduard F. Sekler. 2006. Yearning for beauty: the Wiener Werkstätte and the Stoclet House. Vienna: MAK, p. 368.
4. Hoffmann, Josef Franz Maria, Peter Noever, and Marek Pokorný, 2009. Selbstbiographie. Ostfildern: H. Cantz, p. 97.
5. Wien Bibliothek im Rathaus (Vienna Town Hall Library), manuscript collection, quoted in: Europalia, Elisabeth Schmuttermeier, Wiener Werkstätte. Atelier Viennois 1902-1932, catalogue, ed. by Brussels, 1987, p. 22.
6. Werner Hofmann, ‘Gesamtkunstwerk Wien’ in Szeemann, Harald, and Susanne Häni. 1983. Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk: europäische Utopien seit 1800. Aarau: Sauerländer, p. 89.
7. Paulus Rainer et. al. ‘A Chronology of the Wiener Werkstätte’, in Noever, Peter, Valérie Dufour, Marc Hotermans, Heimo Zobernig, and Eduard F. Sekler. 2006. Yearning for beauty: the Wiener Werkstätte and the Stoclet House. Vienna: MAK, p. 81.
8. Adolf Loos, Von einem armen reichen Manne (The Poor Little Rich Man), Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 26 April 1900. Reprint in English: Sarnitz, August. 2003. Adolf Loos, 1870-1933: architect, cultural critic, dandy. Cologne: Taschen, p. 18-21.
9. Ludwig Hevesi, ‘Neubauten von Josef Hoffmann’, in Hevesi, Lajos, and Otto Breicha. 1986. Altkunst, Neukunst: Wien, 1894-1908. Klagenfurt: Ritter, pp. 220-221.
10. “ ... il va de soi que les fleurs—toujours d’un seul ton—sur la table et la cravate de M. Stoclet s’assortissaient sur la toilette de Madame.” quoted in Edmond de Bruyn, ‘Adieu à Monsieur Adolphe Stoclet’ in Le flambeau: revue belge des questions politiques et littéraires, 1918. Bruxelles: Lamertin, p. 3.