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Hagenauer Workshop A Century of Simplified Elegance in Metalwork Design

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The Hagenauer Workshop, founded in Vienna in 1898 by Carl Hagenauer (1872-1928), marked a pivotal shift in the world of sculpture and decorative arts. Moving away from the intricate and naturalistic details prevalent in 19th-century art, Carl Hagenauer introduced a radical, simplified, and often streamlined aesthetic that would come to characterize the Workshop’s output.

Karl Hagenauer A 1920s Austrian silvered bronze figure of a stylised female nude in kneeling pose
Karl Hagenauer – A 1920s Austrian silvered bronze figure of a stylised female nude in kneeling pose with back arched and arms raised, mounted to a rectangular plinth base, stamped marks to the base, height 21cm. Sold for £1,100 at Fieldings Auctioneers, October 2023.

Initially, the Workshop specialized in both practical and ornamental artifacts, including tablewares, lamps, mirrors, and vases, crafted primarily from metal. However, it was their metal figurines and group sculptures produced between 1910 and 1930 that garnered widespread acclaim across Europe, establishing the Hagenauer name as synonymous with avant-garde design.

Hagenauer Workshop A Figural Candle Holder designed introduced circa 1928
Hagenauer Werkstätten (Austrian, active 1898-1987). A Figural Candle Holder, designed introduced circa 1928 cast and polished brass, the column modelled as a stylised rearing horse 39.5cm high, stamped ‘WHW/HAGENAUER WIEN/MADE IN AUSTRIA’. Sold for £1,100 at Bonhams, August 2020.

Upon Carl Hagenauer’s passing in 1928, his eldest son, Karl, alongside his brother Franz, took the helm of the Workshop. The 1930s saw their designs evolve to embody the essence of New Realism, with each piece characterized by movement and dynamism, distilled into simple, unbroken forms devoid of unnecessary detail. This approach is exemplified by their sculptures of dancers, gymnasts, horses, and panthers, where the fluidity and grace of motion are captured with minimalist elegance. One notable design features a kneeling woman, her face rendered in a mask-like simplicity reminiscent of Brancusi’s “Sleeping Muse,” highlighting the influence of contemporaneous artists like Brancusi and Modigliani on the Hagenauer aesthetic.

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Collecting pieces from the Hagenauer Workshop presents a unique challenge, given the difficulty in distinguishing between the contributions of Carl, Karl, and Franz. While Carl and Karl were largely responsible for the Workshop’s utilitarian creations, Franz Hagenauer is credited with the more decorative sculptures that have become highly coveted by collectors. Hagenauer masks, along with figures that bear the stylistic influences of Modigliani or Brancusi, are especially sought after for their decorative appeal and stylish finesse.

Karl Hagenauer an Austrian nickel plated bird bowl after 1927
Karl Hagenauer, an Austrian nickel plated bird bowl, after 1927, pedestal form, stamped marks, 17cm high, 27.5cm long. Sold for £1,500 at Kingham & Orme, October 2019.

The distinctive mark of Hagenauer pieces, usually stamped on the base with the “wHw” monogram, sometimes includes the designer’s name, date, and place of origin. In the absence of a base, these marks are found in another discreet location on the piece, aiding in the authentication and appreciation of these collectibles.

Karl Hagenauer an Art Deco brass figure of a leaping greyhound circa 1930s
Karl Hagenauer, an Art Deco brass figure of a leaping greyhound, circa 1930s. Sold for £2,400 at Kinghams Auctioneers, October 2022.

Today, the legacy of the Hagenauer Workshop continues to be celebrated for its significant contribution to the evolution of modern design, embodying a seamless blend of functionality and aesthetic innovation. The Workshop’s dedication to a simplified, yet expressive form has left an indelible mark on the history of decorative arts, making Hagenauer pieces a prized addition to any collection.

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