Furniture and Woodwork Collection

Curator: Sebastian Hackenschmidt

The MAK is home to an extensive collection of furniture and woodwork, in light of which the artistic and stylistic tendencies of furniture history—with a focus on Austria and Vienna—can be understood along with the cultural-historical and political developments of the past nearly 150 years.
The collection encompasses over 4,600 objects ranging from small carvings and ornamental boxes to massive cabinets and whole room interiors.

The furniture art of the Baroque and Rococo eras, furniture from the Empire and Biedermeier periods, and Historicist and Art Nouveau furniture are the main focuses of this collection, with each period represented by outstanding examples.

Further highlights are Gothic and Renaissance furniture (on which collecting primarily focused back when the museum was founded), simple and practical utilitarian furniture from the period around 1900, an extraordinary collection of Viennese furniture from the interwar period which documents the years between 1918 and 1938 in an exceptional way, and contemporary furniture made since the 1960s. The MAK also owns an outstanding collection of courtly furniture from Austria and Vienna, as well as original and copied English furniture from around 1900.

The widely recognized collection of bentwood furniture and the unique collection of furniture and objects from the Wiener Werkstätte serve to document pivotal phases of design history.

The artistic highlights of the Furniture and Woodwork Collection—as well as the lion’s share of its most historically important objects—are presented in the MAK Permanent Collection according to criteria of stylistic history. The Historicism section of the Permanent Collection, for example, contains an overview of 100 years of Thonet furniture production, as well as that of competitors who shared the stage with Thonet between the 1830s and the 1930s. Particularly noteworthy items also include the elaborate and artfully worked cabinet made by David Roentgen (Neuwied am Rhein, 1776) for Prince Karl Alexander of Lorraine, general governor of the Austrian Netherlands, which is presented in the Baroque – Rococo – Classicism section of the Permanent Collection; this is regarded as a highlight of German artistic carpentry.

The varied typology of seating furniture from various eras were made visibly evident by the seating furniture displayed as part of the Study Collection (1993–2013): here, examples of differing or identical types, functions, degrees of development and materials were juxtaposed.

During the Second World War, the MAK lost a significant share of the Furniture and Woodwork Collection’s historic holdings, with nearly one third of the Furniture Collection destroyed due to the war. Additionally, the reorganization of Austria’s museums during the late 1930s and early 1940s saw nearly all the wooden sculptures transferred to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and a large number of turn-of-the-century English and Austrian furniture pieces were also lost.

Following the war’s conclusion, the museum made an intensive effort to rebuild the furniture department. New purchases were made with a particular eye to improving coverage of the Wiener Werkstätte and the interwar period. The Biedermeier, Historicism and Art Nouveau collections were also made complete, and the period since the 1980s has seen the acquisition of examples of more current items made since the 1960s. In the process, the collection’s organization shifted from a materials-based system to one oriented on typology: for a long time now, the collection has no longer been limited to objects made of wood; other materials now featured include steel tubing, plastics, cardboard and felt.

A new collecting focus is developing in the gray area between art, architecture and furniture design, an area which also plays a central role in the MAK Collection of Contemporary Art. Purchases of contemporary works by figures such as Donald Judd, Ron Arad, Tom Dixon and Jerszy Seymour serve to highlight new stances in experimental furniture design.