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'Papa' Biedermeier: From Furniture to Flowers

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Blog by Ngaire & Moog

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After a long twelve years of conflict, spanning the entire European continent, the European economic climate was forever changed. The death toll was high, and power had shifted from one country to another. With these upheavals came changes amongst the different classes, with a new growing middle class emerging from the wreckage of Europe. 

Formerly dominated by the Neoclassical ‘Empire’ style spearheaded by Napoleon I and his court, continental European taste changed once again towards a style now known as ‘Biedermeier’. With increasing purchasing power, and a looming fear of the future, newly-moneyed families sought a new, homely sort of style, unlike other periods of arts which were led by the needs of the politically active elite. With this new style, they could retreat to the sanctuary of their homes and build a new world: one that was characterised by furniture emphasising the pleasures of family life, removed from the need to be a statement of power. 

[To Left: A Late 19th Century Beidermeier Style Mirror in Cavetto Walnut Frame, Originally Acquired in Vienna, Austria; sold for $410 AUD at the Auction Barn]

So, where does the name Biedermeier come from, the man who lent his name to an era of style? Was he a Noble - perhaps a Count or Prince, or a great designer? Alas - he did not exist! 

In Munich, new literary papers such as the Fliegende Blätter were publishing satirical verses on a certain character, known as Gottlieb Biedermeier or ‘Papa’ Biedermeier, a newly middle class bourgeoisie man of amateur poetry and creature comforts. Mocked for his desire for home comforts - a piano for family gatherings, a writing desk for letters and perhaps the occasional poem - Beidermeier was the quintessential new man of a post-Napoleonic War society, and thus a target for mockery from the established elite. Despite this, Beidermeier design flourished, as people stayed home and enjoyed the company of a book, busying their hands in embroidery, in writing, or in dancing and singing with friends. One item that was repurposed was the table à milieu; no longer a centrepiece for a vase of flowers or a fine Roman statuette, but now a place with chairs for evening gatherings and activities. At the height of its refinement and popularity, even nobility was embracing it: take a look at this early 19th century painting of the Austrian Emperor by Johann Stephan Decker, c.after 1821, whose study is a celebrated example of the Beidermeier aesthetic at its best. 

 

[To Lower Right: A Painting by Johann Stephan Decker (French, b.1784 - d.1844), 'Holy Roman Emperor Francis II in his Study', c.after 1821, oil on canvas, used with permission from the Belvedere Collection via. the Belvedere Palace Collection, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna]

 

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Often using local timbers - often lighter, local timbers instead of expensive mahogany, cut expertly to emphasise the grain - by local tradesmen, prioritising function over form, Beidermeier furniture was often charmingly simple and practical, but always featured handsome flourishes. Simple adornments such as light veneering, elegant curved lines and naturalistic carvings were sometimes used, depending on the carpenter’s skills and personal aesthetic sense, and no one Beidermeier piece tends to look exactly like another. It even incorporated rich and natural colours, influenced by the philosophical work of Goethe who suggested that certain colours, applied in the home, were beneficial for health. At its heart, Beidermeier suggests a warmth, connection to one's surroundings and community, and an ‘unfussy’ sensibility. 

 

The beauty of Biedermeier is all-encompassing, and can be incorporated into any art form and daily life. We’ve asked one of our expert staff members, Ngaire, an accomplished Floral Artist, to give us an insight of how you can use floral art to create a Beidermeier aesthetic in your own home!

 

Ngaire Gamack on Traditional Biedermeier Floral Design

 

In keeping with the Biedermeier style, the floral arrangement of the same name is utilitarian with clean lines, using botanical and non botanical materials that are easy to access. Spherical or conical in shape, and mostly consisting of concentric circles or spirals of like materials placed closely together with no negative space to create a cohesive structure, and sometimes including pyramidal forms as well. Materials used could include flowers, foliage, moss, nuts, seedpods, lace, fruit etc - whatever is at hand, and could be arranged in groups of colour and texture. Containers are formal, with clean lines, such as urns or footed bowls.

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Original Beidermeier designs were constructed using wet sand and other mechanics to hold their shape. Today, Biedermeier designs are often made using floral foam which allows for a perfect shape. In the quest to promote the use of eco-friendly products, it would be worthwhile to experiment with using other bases. In the 1960s, I had my first experience with Biedermeier at flower shows, making a decorated saucer using a mound of wet sand as the mechanic. 

 [To Left: A Beidermeier Style Floral arrangement utilising Chrysanthemums, Rosehips, Sea Holly, Succulents, Camellia Leaves, and Decorative Pins, all placed in an urn shaped vase bought at The Auction Barn]

In this way, a Biedermeier arrangement need not be expensive to make, although a time consuming art - and the Biedermeier could be made in the hand and also used as a bridal bouquet, with their concentric design used later in Victorian posies

.- Ngaire Gamack

AFAA (Australian Floral Art Association) Management committee member

AFAA Judge and Demonstrator

President Floral Art Guild of the ACT

Member NSW Floral Art Association

Member of The Auction Barn Team

 

References

Johann Stephan Decker (b.1784 - d.1844), ‘Emperor Franz II in his Study’ (Painting), oil on canvas, c. after 1821, accessed via. The Belvedere Collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria; <https://sammlung.belvedere.at/objects/8610/kaiser-franz-ii-i-in-seinem-arbeitszimmer>

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Biedermeier style". Encyclopedia Britannica, 8 Nov. 2012, https://www.britannica.com/art/Biedermeier-style>

Smith, Roberta (2006, December 1), ‘Crisp, Clean, and Modern, Before Its Time’ (Art Review), in the New York Times, <https://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/01/arts/design/01bied.html>

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