For connoisseurs of 19th-century furniture, the Biedermeier period is one of the most exciting times for furniture design. And while there may not be one iconic Biedermeier Furniture Museum to delve into the unique history of the style, it is well represented in some of the most celebrated museums around the world.
In this blog, we want to walk you through some of those exhibits and understand how Biedermeier pieces can figure in a museum’s collection. With their rejection of the grandeur of the neoclassical style and pompous French Empire trappings, Biedermeier pieces find their focal point in material-focused explorations.
The artistic conscience of Biedermeier developed in the early 1800s and made its mark on homes in Europe. The aesthetic dominance of Empire style faded at the turn of that century. In its place came a period of valued domestic joys and the rise of the middle class. Join us as we take a jaunt through galleries around the world and explore this fascinating period.
Austrian Roots Emphasized in Museum Displays
Biedermeier furniture style developed in the first half of the 19th century in Germany and Austria. From there, it then spread across Northern and Central Europe into Scandinavia and France. While modern-day Germany is deeply linked with the history of Biedermeier, the significance of Austria’s contribution to this style is not to be ignored.
One of the most exciting contributors to the style, Josef Ulrich Danhauser, worked in Vienna for the majority of his career. Learn more about him in one of our past blog posts.
There is a permanent collection of Biedermeier furniture at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Arts. Many consider this museum, known as MAK, a “laboratory of societal knowledge,” a place where creative heritage and contemporary innovation meet. Biedermeier furniture dots halls all over this museum. The collection comes very close to being a one-stop Biedermeier Furniture Museum.
Curator Jenny Holzer took great artistic care with this exhibit, wanting to give it the best possible chance at reaching audiences. She features personal letters, memories, and special effects in the display of pieces, to captivate and educate visitors to the MAK Permanent Collection: Empire Style Biedermeier.
After browsing the exhibit, be sure to check out the Styylish catalog’s offerings of Biedermeier-style furniture. They are a special exhibition all of their own – and ready to come home with you.
The Stronghold of the Secretary Desk
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has over 2 million works on display. As the largest art museum in the Americas, the MET houses a breathtaking range of pieces, including this Austrian Secretary Desk. Listed as a “sécretaire à abattant”, the phrase translates from French to “drop-leaf secretary”.
The delicate details on this secretary are breathtaking, even 200 years after its creation. Crafted with walnut wood and dating back to 1815-1820, this piece has slats that parallel the aesthetic of a pipe organ. You can visit it yourself by stopping into gallery 554, featuring Revival furniture styles.
It’s perfectly possible to add the charm and history of 19th-century furniture to your own home. Consider this South Germany Biedermeier Drop Front Desk, with a walnut veneer and ebonized columns. The Secretary Desk has held significance throughout time and is still as majestic as ever in many forms.
As Seen at the Met: Side Chairs
The Styylish catalog features pieces of museum quality as well. This Biedermeier Walnut Chair for example, is available for purchase and could
easily be imagined pulled up next to a drop front desk. This chair is a classic Biedermeier piece: take note of the walnut veneer, smooth and curved lines, and ebonized lyre motif.
Over at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, we can find the Josef Danhauser Side Chair. From their website, we read that “the simple, elegant forms with their clean lines and light-colored wood veneer derived from the ornamentally restrained furniture that had been made for the royal and princely households of Germany, Austria, and France beginning in the late eighteenth century.”
The two chairs intuitively relate to one another. And both feature stunning, updated upholstery that captures the charm of the original upholstery and adds a modern twist.
Vienna’s Biedermeier House
If you love museums that construct life-like recreations of historical interiors, we’ve got the place for you. It is possible to explore through a decorated home at the Geymüllerschlössel Biedermeier House in Vienna. The gorgeous Vienesse suburban spot served as a summer home for a banker in the 1800s.
Thanks to the restoration and preservation work by the MAK, a visit there includes a beautiful interior and exterior display. The interior looks just as it would have been over 200 years ago. A sofa set estimated to be from 1810, marks the centerpiece of the exhibit. It “once belonged to the Empress Maria Ludovika of Austria-Este, wife of the Austrian Emperor of the time”.
The sofa set in this home could be referenced by looking at this eye-catching Biedermeier armchairs and sofa, with a history dating back to 1820 Vienna. It is very difficult and rare to find a complete Biedermeier set, not to mention in this pristine condition.
Furniture in Conversation with Biedermeier Artwork
In 2016, The Belvedere Palace in Austria, home to the Belvedere Museum, displayed a stunning exhibit of both Biedermeier artwork and furniture.
Indeed, the aesthetic significance of Biedermeier style spanned across mediums. Biedermeier paintings often depicted a sentimental view of the world but through a natural lens.
The style attracted artists and viewers interested in realism, as well as romanticism. In general, Biedermeier cultural values stayed rooted. The new middle class gained a sense of comfort from displaying these rustic scenes in their own homes.
This Biedermeier exhibit at the Belvedere proudly displayed the work that was available to many, without the distant influence of academia and structure. It is only appropriate that Biedermeier artwork can be found in many places throughout Vienna, emphasizing the overwhelming pride of comfortable and understandable artwork made accessible to all.
In Final: Your Home as a Biedermeier Furniture Museum?
Across the globe, museums have been showcasing Biedermeier furniture for decades. We’ve only scratched the surface in this brief survey. Museums like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Art Institute of Chicago, and many more institutions house further treasures, just waiting for you to discover them.
There are many ways to get your own slice of Biedermeier antiquity. Consider a classic secretary desk in a modern living room. A Biedermeier sofa set next to a piano is a great idea, too. Or change your dining room with a breathtaking Biedermeier table. Styylish products allow you to embrace history and add museum-worthy pieces to your home.