Gekozen werken


Vazen _ Tijdloze vormen

Vasen, 1970, Wilhelm Wagenfeld, Gefäße aus den Produktionen von Jenaer Glaswerke Schott & Gen. (1930 – 1934
Photo: SDKM

Vessels from the production of Jenaer Glaswerke Schott & Gen. (1930 – 1934);
VGL Vereinigte Lausitzer Glaswerke AG, Weisswasser (1935 – 1948);
WMF Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik, AG, Geislingen / Steige (since 1950).

Why are vessels such as those with the catalogue raisonné number 438.01, such mass-produced everyday objects – vases, glasses, bowls, cups… – not only used according to their intended function, but more and more often “only” exhibited? What kind of thinking underlies the endeavour to present industrial products as individually crafted gems?

It is almost always clear forms that confront the viewer when he encounters a vessel designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld. They are characterised by clarity, and almost all of them have a simple, elegant side to them. The floral effect of flowers placed in them is not diminished by their designed form, but rather emphasised. The connoisseur is not afraid to touch the glass when drinking wine from one Wagenfeld vessel or tea from another.

All of them are characterised by formally moderate modernity, not ideologically over-emphasised assertion. Their restrained precision makes them shine – and it is obviously this that is responsible for their respective visual presence, even as isolated exhibition objects.

In the catalogue “Lines of Silent Beauty”, the answer to the first question relating to the DKM Museum can also be found programmatically, as it were, with reference to the entire collection: Wilhelm Wagenfeld’s vessels are reminiscent “in their simplicity and beauty of form of the aesthetic perfection of Asian ceramics” – and at the same time they possess a timeless and classical beauty.

The formal reason has thus been sufficiently explained. The designer Wagenfeld – it could be concluded – designed everyday objects with outstanding aesthetic (perceptible) quality in order to allow sculptural volumes to enter spaces that remained closed to the sculptures of the l’art-pour-l’art way of thinking.

Which brings us to the second question: The formal beauty of Wagenfeld’s designs did not go hand in hand with economic exclusivity. The Bauhäusler Wagenfeld not only took the formal maxims of the Bauhaus doctrine seriously, but also the social goals on which the ideologically most influential design school of the 20th century was based. Klaus Lehmann, the former head of the product design department at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, summarises this in the formula: “Pressed glass can be beautiful”!

Thinking that has become form, ideas brought into form, intellectual intentions transformed into good forms – these in a way elitist intentions did not lead Wagenfeld onto the road of exclusive design for the so-called “well-heeled” social groups, but onto that of democratic everyday design. Wagenfeld vessels could be purchased for just a little more money in any shop of the 1960s that valued form.

Wagenfeld’s way of thinking even led to socially backward-looking formal compromises, which sometimes seem strange, but should not go unmentioned. In the 1950s, for example, he designed glasses with decorative cuts to provide work for highly qualified glass cutters.

Exhibiting Wagenfels vessels as objects of contemplation thus always implies the credo that beauty of form can also be found for the visually sensitised where the purchase price does not replace the traditional “the beautiful, the true, the good”

Wagenfeld: born 1900 in Bremen; died 1990 in Stuttgart

Further reading:

  • Wagenfeld (1900-1990); Publication for the exhibition “100 Years of Wilhelm Wagenfeld” in the Wilhelm Wagenfeld House, Am Wall 209, 28195 Bremen from 31 May to 31 October 2000
  • and enduring – industrial forms by Wilhelm Wagenfeld; Ed.: Carlo Burschel, Bremen 1997

The vase with the catalogue raisonné number “438.01” by Wilhelm Wagenfeld can be seen from 24 January at the Museum DKM, Duisburg. Numerous other vessels by Wilhelm Wagenfeld will also be on display there, as well as Adolf Lazi’s product photographs of his cups, glasses and vases from 1938 to 1950.

Raimund Stecker (2009)


Forms – Glass – Forms
Wilhem Wagenfeld

Born in Bremen, Wilhelm Wagenfeld (1900-1990), who became one of the most important German industrial designers of the 20th century with his designs for household objects made of metal and glass, joined the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1923 after completing an apprenticeship in a silverware factory and attending the drawing academy in Hanau. There he completed a preliminary course with Moholy-Nagy and training in the metal workshop.

From 1926, he was an assistant and, until 1930, a teacher at the State Building College in Weimar. From 1930 to 1934 Wagenfeld worked for the Jena glassworks Schott and Gen. and from 1935 was artistic director of the Vereinigte Lausitzer Glaswerke in Weißwasser/Oberlausitz. In this largest European glassworks, he created successful products, including vases for the “Rautenglas line”[1], some of which were still being produced until the 1960s.

The DKM collection owns a number of these vases designed in the 30 years, which in their simplicity and beauty of form are reminiscent of the aesthetic perfection of Asian ceramics and at the same time possess a timeless, classic beauty.

After the war, Wagenfeld worked briefly as a professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Berlin, among other things, but moved to Stuttgart in 1949 to start as artistic director of the Württembergische Metallwarenfabriken (WMF).

Here, he designed large product ranges of tableware made of glass and chrome organics.

In 1954, he also founded the Wagenfeld workshop to develop industrial models, which the successful designer continued to run into old age and only gave up in 1978. The DKM collection also owns vases from the 1950s, in which Wagenfeld always remained true to his Bauhaus-influenced design ideals of simple and purist beauty of form as well as functional and high-quality execution. Although the situation at WMF was by no means easy for Wagenfeld from the 1960s onwards,[2] he did not allow himself to be swayed from his basic aesthetic values by the new market requirements, such as shorter[1] products, changes in public taste, etc. His designs, like those of his colleagues at WMF, are still very popular. As the collection of vases in the exhibition shows, his designs have become classics that are still as elegant today as they were when they were created.

Wagenfeld glasses from the factories of Jenaer Glaswerke Schott & Gen. (1930-1934)
VGL Vereinigte Lausitzer Glaswerke AG, Weisswasser (1935 – 1948) WMF Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik AG, Geislingen/Steige (since 1950)

Ute Riese (2008)

[1] Lusatian glass. Past and present. Pillnitz Castle, 1987.
[2] Wilhelm Wagenfeld and WMF. 25 years of collaboration 1950-1975. Catalogue Museum Künstlerkolonie, Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt, 2005.


DKM Foundation, Lines of Silent Beauty, 2008, pp. 156-161, ill. p. 157.