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Stool

  • Object:

    Stool

  • Place of origin:

    Tallinn (manufactured)

  • Date:

    1930-33 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gropius, Walter, born 1883 - died 1969 (designer)
    Luterma (manufacturer)
    Isokon Furniture Company (retailer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Moulded 3-ply birch plywood with iron foot plates and metal screw and nut, incised on its top by one of the previous owners with a decorative pattern.

  • Museum number:

    W.17-2017

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is an unusual object for two reasons: first, the design is only a slight variation of a stool made by the same firm no later than 1933 and, second, it is a rare example of a modernist object that has been personalised by the addition of distinctly un-modernist decoration.
This stool is a modification of one made by an Estonian plywood manufacturer (V&A collection W.34-1992) that was retailed in Britain. Its design was subtly but noticeably altered in the radii of the curves of the cut-outs. The overall dimensions of both stools make clear that both would have been made on the very same moulds, which made the manufacture of the newer version (potentially) economically viable. Although the designer of the original stool is unknown, the new version is well-documented as the work of one of the 20th century’s best-known designers, German architect Walter Gropius, the founder (in 1919) of the Bauhaus, the most famous and influential design school of the modern era.
Gropius’s stool had all the material characteristics of the original Luterma stool of 1930-35: innovative plywood construction, extraordinary lightness and ease of handling. In terms of the history of modernism in Britain, it is material evidence of Gropius’s emigration to London (in 1935) following the rise of Nazism in Germany, and of his collaboration with Jack Pritchard, founder of the Isokon Furniture Company. Pritchard had previously worked for Venesta, the British distributor of the Estonian plywood company Luterma, which manufactured both the original and the Gropius stool. Pritchard also provided Gropius with a job (as Comptroller of Design of Isokon Furniture) as well as offering Gropius and his wife Ise with a place to live on their arrival in the UK, at Lawn Road Flats (1933, designed by Wells Coates), an early and distinguished example of modernist housing in London.
The stool is a unique example of modernist furniture in the V&A’s collection as it is a mass-produced object that has been personalised through the application on its top of a very un-modernist, incised decorative pattern. This work—distinctly amateur, even crude, in nature—was apparently undertaken by one of its two owners who signed both their names (Fred and Nora) on the underside of the top with a declaration of love in the form of two hearts pierced by two arrows. The hand-crafted ornamentation on the top may well have been derived from an embroidery pattern, possibly Balkan in origin, and possibly from an Ottoman-influenced, Bosnian tradition of small coffee tables with intricate carved decoration.
Plainness or simplicity of design, as well as an avoidance of surface decoration, is generally a hallmark of modernist design and central to its aesthetic. That the stool’s owners thought highly enough of this piece of furniture to acquire it but then also decorate it in this manner was an unusual, striking and even subversive way to customize a modernist object.

Physical description

Moulded 3-ply birch plywood with iron foot plates and metal screw and nut, personalized by the addition of distinctly un-modernist decoration, probably derived from an embroidery pattern, possibly Balkan in origin, and possibly from an Ottoman-influence, Bosnian tradition of small coffee tables with intricate carved decoration.

Place of Origin

Tallinn (manufactured)

Date

1930-33 (made)

Artist/maker

Gropius, Walter, born 1883 - died 1969 (designer)
Luterma (manufacturer)
Isokon Furniture Company (retailer)

Materials and Techniques

Moulded 3-ply birch plywood with iron foot plates and metal screw and nut, incised on its top by one of the previous owners with a decorative pattern.

Marks and inscriptions

The two previous owners, called Fred and Nora, signed both their names on the underside of the top with a declaration of love in the form of two hearts pierced by two arrows.

Dimensions

Height: 438 mm, Width: 330 mm, Depth: 330 mm

Object history note

This stool, designed by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) was manufactured by Luterma (previously A.M. Luther) in Tallinn, Estonia, for the Isokon Furniture Company, London.

Descriptive line

Moulded 3-ply birch plywood with iron foot plates and metal screw and nut, designed by Walter Gropius (1883-1969), manufactured by Luterma (previously A.M. Luther), Tallinn, Estonia, for the Isokon Furniture Company, London

Materials

Birch plywood; Iron

Techniques

Moulding

Categories

Furniture

Collection

Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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