In April 1923, after the untimely death of Dagobert Peche at the age of 36, Josef Hoffmann, his colleague at the Wiener Werkstätte, wrote: “Peche was the greatest ornamental genius Austria has produced since the Baroque.”
Judging by the prices that works by Peche achieved at the sale held by Hargesheimer (28% buyer’s premium) in Düsseldorf on September 7, he has lost none of his attraction. On offer were several silver objects, all of which went for multiples of their estimates.
Peche had been working as an independent designer and attracting considerable attention for several years before Hoffmann invited him to join the Wiener Werkstätte in 1915.
From then on, Peche produced countless designs in the most varied techniques and material. He produced works on paper, textiles, book-bindings, jewellery, ceramics, furniture and silver objects, such as those offered in Dusseldorf.
These pieces had a perfect provenance, having all been part of the celebrated collection of the entrepreneur Fritz Niescher (1889- 1974) in Chemnitz. Starting in the 1920s, Niescher amassed an exquisite art collection with works by German Expressionists, but also paintings by Gauguin and Aristide Maillol. He also collected works of art from the Wiener Werkstätte, in particular by Hoffmann and Peche. These had passed by descent to the vendor.
The international bidders, collectors, dealers and museum alike had five objects by the former and six by the latter to choose from, all documented in the archives of the Wiener Werkstätte.
Two silver fluted bowls on pedestals by Hoffmann went from the guide of €2000 to €35,000 (£30,170), and two goblets changed hands for €10,000 (£8620), leaving their modest estimate of €500 far behind.
The star of the show was, however, undoubtedly Peche. A fluted bowl on a raised base brought €17,000 (£14,655), more than eight times the guide, while a silver and mother-of-pearl broach with motifs of leaves and fruit reached €20,000 (£17,240).
Particularly sought after were two silver boxes, one as a stylised apple, the other as a pear. Both were executed in 1923, based on designs from 1920 and 1918 respectively. Not surprisingly, the tempting guides of €1200 and €1800 inspired the bidders on the phones and in the room. They pushed the prices ever upwards, until each piece had reached €33,000 (£28,450).
These results were vastly overshadowed by the result for a 16in (41cm) high, extravagantly decorated jewellery box, surmounted by a mythical, deer-like, animal. It has been said that the jewel box is so extravagant that it would outshine any jewel it might contain. A gilt version of this model belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The plain silver box in the auction was guided at €8000, but from the outset, it was clear that the bidders had set their sights much higher. At the close of a long-drawn-out exchange, the international buyer placed his winning bid of €560,000 (£482,760), by far and away the highest auction price for the artist.
In 1904, Hoffmann received an important commission from the industrialist Viktor Zuckerkandl.
He was to build a sanatorium in Purkersdorf on the outskirts of Vienna, which was to become a meeting place for the Austrian high society to ‘take the waters’ at the mineral spring that had been discovered there in the 19th century.
Hoffman was not only the co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte, he was also a trained architect. Thus he could profit doubly from Zuckerkandl’s commission, as he was able to produce the majority of the fittings for the new building in the Wiener Werkstätte.
Among them were numerous wall lights, a pair of which figured prominently at the September 23 sale at Goldfield Auctions (28% buyer’s premium) in Weiswampach, Luxembourg.
The 7 x 13in (18 x 33cm) nickel-plated lights with bevelled glass panels were originally designed for the sewing room in Purkersdorf and are documented in contemporary publications, describing the new building.
In the middle of the last century, the sanatorium fell into disrepair, but in the 1990s, the exterior of the building was restored to its original form and it was adapted for use as a care home.
The lamps in Weiswampach had a starting price of €6000, sufficient motivation for the bidders who drove the price to €27,500 (£23,705).
£1 = €1.16