Did Hofman have a change of heart?

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
Mar 8, 2013 3:05PM

By Elaine Gerstein

I was especially drawn to the work, “Elevation Design for a Sitting Room, with Sofa, Two Chairs and Table,” because recently, the Cooper-Hewitt had a wonderful exhibition, House Proud, which was a look into 19th century rooms through watercolors. I wondered if there was any link to these room studies. But, this elevation, also a watercolor, was done later, in 1919.

It is a depiction of a traditionally set room dominated by hexagon shaped furnishings.  A frieze on the back wall contains inverted pyramidal designs.There are three paintings with molten unknown forms. Colors are soft pink and blue against a beige background. V’s, or abstracted leaves, are scattered throughout. The room is both strangely primitive and formal in decor. It is charming and perplexing.

Research is so much fun and as it turns out, this elevation suggests a Czech cubist movement, called “Rondo Cubism”.  Did I even know of its existence?

Most interesting is that the designer of this elevation, Vlastislav Hofman (1884-1964), was the chief architect and designer of an earlier Czech Cubist movement, the first to replace realism with geometric forms. Pyramids, crystals and prisms with strong angularity dominated his design scheme. No decorations allowed! Hofman’s minimalist cubism was criticized for its lack of humanity.  

Rondo-cubism, a more gentle and humane form of cubism, was born in 1918 when Czechoslovakia became independent. It celebrated the new country and its folklore. Decorative effects reappeared, simplified and abstracted. Strong angles coexisted with rounded curved constructions. Traditional room schemes housed cubist furniture. It was dynamic, exciting and unique. In conflict with Hofman’s credo, it would be difficult to say that Hofman adopted Rondo-Cubism. But in this elevation I find its influence.

[Re-posted from Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum blog].

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum