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  • Desk
    Olbrich, Joseph Maria, born 1867 - died 1908
  • Enlarge image


  • Place of origin:

    Darmstadt (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1905 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Olbrich, Joseph Maria, born 1867 - died 1908 (designer)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Poplar, veneered in burr elm and ebonised gaboon, with stringing and inlay in various woods

  • Museum number:

    W.59:1 to 3-1981

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This luxurious writing desk exemplifies a strand of the German arts and craft movement of the early 1900s. The classical, monumental character of the piece suggested by both the Roman triumphal arch and the classical sarcophagus or tomb shapes, recalls German Biedermeier designs for furniture from the first quarter of the 19th century.

The decorative veneers, the artistic motifs and the quality of the detail (such as the handles) express a desire to return to higher artistry and hand manufacture in furniture and cabinet-making at this time. The geometric designs inset into the door panels are similar to contemporary graphic designs and designs for embroidery.

Joseph Maria Olbrich designed somewhat similar pieces of furniture for the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse for the Altes Schloss in Giessen in 1906.

Physical description

Desk, veneered in burr elm and ebonised gaboon. The platform base, with arched recess to front, is raised on castors. Four square stepped pillars support two deep cupboards, their doors inlaid with stringing to the edges and a central geometric motif. The centre section is hollow and with a shelf, supported on three narrow turned columns from the base. Above this a wide shallow drawer with stringing to the bottom edge fills the full depth of the desk between the side cupboards. The top is stepped and the edge inlaid geometrically with various woods.
Twisted, decorative metal handles to the drawer.

Place of Origin

Darmstadt (made)


ca. 1905 (made)


Olbrich, Joseph Maria, born 1867 - died 1908 (designer)

Materials and Techniques

Poplar, veneered in burr elm and ebonised gaboon, with stringing and inlay in various woods


Height: 7.5 cm, Width: 120 cm, Depth: 64.5 cm

Object history note

This desk bears a close resemblance to a group of furniture designed by Olbrich now mainly in the Städtischen Kunstsammlungen Darmstadt. The repeated central motif recalls graphic designs and embroidery of about 1904. The desk is closest in character to Olbrich's designs for interiors and furniture in the Altes Schloss Giessen, executed for Grand-Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse in 1906.

Object sampling carried out by Jo Darrah, V&A Science; drawer/slide reference 7/76.

Historical context note

The desk exemplifies well the classical, monumental character of many of Olbrich's later works.

Descriptive line

German 1905 des. J.M. Olbrich

German 1905 des. J.M. Olbrich

to Desk, 1 old

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Jervis, Simon: Furniture Of About 1900 From Austria & Hungary In The Victoria & Albert Museum, London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1986, no.24, p. 60, 61
Ein Dokument Deutscher Kunst, Darmstadt 1901-1976, Darmstadt, 1976, IV, Die Künstler der Mathildenhöhe, pp.168-169, illus.

Labels and date


Designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich (Austrian, 1867-1908)
Maker unknown
Poplar, veneered in burr elm and ebonised gaboon, with stringing and inlay in various woods

Made in Germany during Olbrich's nine year residence (1899-1908) at the Darmstadt Artist's Colony, founded under the patronage of Ernst Ludwig, Grand Duke of Hesse.

Given by Chenil Galleries
W.59-1981 [1989-2006]


Poplar; Burr elm; Gaboon; Metal


Cabinet-making; Veneering; Inlay (process); Staining


Furniture and Woodwork Collection

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