Adolf Loos - The Collector: Icons of Design New York Tuesday, December 16, 2014 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    House of Decorative Arts, London
    Courtney Ross-Holst, New York
    Acquired from the above by the present owner, 2004

  • Exhibited

    "Wien um 1900: Klimt, Schiele und ihre Zeit," Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1989
    "Adolf Loos," Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna, December 2, 1989-February 25, 1990

  • Literature

    Wien um 1900: Klimt, Schiele und ihre Zeit, exh. cat., Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1989, p. 399, cat. no. 577
    Burkhardt Rukschio, ed., Adolf Loos, exh. cat., Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Wien, 1989, p. 464, fig. 292
    Burkhardt Rukschcio and Roland Schachel, Adolf Loos: Leben und Werk, Vienna, 1982, pp. 44, 45
    Siegfried Wichmann, Jugendstil Art Nouveau: Floral and Functional Forms, Boston, 1984, p. 187
    Torsten Bröhan and Thomas Berg, Design Classics 1890-1930, Cologne, 2001, p. 42
    Renée Price, ed., New Worlds: German and Austrian Art 1890-1940, New York, 2001, p. 422

  • Catalogue Essay

    Phillips would like to thank Dr. Paul Asenbaum and Dr. Burkhardt Rukschcio for their assistance cataloguing the present lot.


    The great Austrian architect Adolf Loos was fanatical about accuracy and precision. In his most celebrated work, Vienna’s multi-purpose Goldman & Salatsch Building (1909-10), he meticulously calculated every visible detail, as seen on his sketches for the commission. He celebrated economy—of materials, of labor, and of time. Nothing should be wasted, he believed, especially natural products. At the turn of the century, Loos designed buildings which today remain aesthetically advanced models of durability. He was most proud when a client later sent him unsolicited payment in thanks for having designed an apartment that continued to serve so well after twenty-years of use. This act of gratitude, a welcome relief during the lean years spent in Paris (1924-27), vindicated his philosophy.

    In service to hygiene and to precision, major preoccupations of his, Loos often installed two standard pieces of equipment in his commissions: a handwashing facility near the entrance (at a time when Viennese apartments rarely employed running water) and one or more clocks, wherever they were needed. Watches and clocks of course were widely used at the time. Loos most often installed the latter in the common areas of a building, in keeping with tradition. He first did so in 1897 for the Austrian imperial tailor Ernst Ebenstein, whose haberdashery was located on the prestigious Kohlmarkt in central Vienna. Loos’s first table clock enjoyed pride of place in the public entrance to his first architectural commission. Shortly thereafter he added a longcase floor clock to his repertoire and later, at Goldman & Salatsch, a system of electric clocks noted for telling time simultaneously and for not needing to be wound. Well known is Loos’s imposing railway-station clock, which, after the building’s 1990 renovation, returned to its traditional position above the main stairs and which displays equal time in four directions. Loos installed a similar instrument for the Strasser family (1918-19), a conventional high-precision pendulum clock that directs electric impulses to satellite clocks throughout the house, the best known of which was an octogonal example on the wardrobe wall near the washbasin at the main entrance. The elaborate Strasser house installation was an exception, however, as Loos usually equipped houses and apartments with single table clocks or his floor clocks.

    A common characteristic distinguishes Loos’s known clocks; they comprise a metal case and crystal glazing on all sides. The dial door of each hinges on the right and closes with a key inserted over a square stud (the sole exception being the early Ebenstein clock). All of these instruments stand on crystal-shaped feet, although one known example has ball feet, a later alteration perhaps. Loos’s clocks are fitted with a pendulum movement fixed to the rear glass by three to five bolts according to type (five in the case of the taller floor models). Floor clocks are equipped with weights, as opposed to the spring-driven table clocks with short pendulums. None to my knowledge has a striking mechanism. Most clocks were executed in brass, although rare examples appear in copper, as with the present model. Metalworker Heeg produced some of Loos‘s cases, although it is not known if he is responsible for all of them, as he did not sign his work.

    Of interest is Loos‘s development of case shapes for clocks destined to sit on mantles, tables, and other types of furniture. The earliest example, the Ebenstein clock, has a pure rectangular form measuring 44 x 30 x 15 cm, smaller than later models, and comprises a brass case, crystal glass, and four bolts for mounting the movement, which was executed by Gustav Becker of Silesia, a 19th-century watchmaker. The Ebenstein dial door locks with a round knob on the left-facing side. The roman numerals and ornamented handles of the face are notably reminiscent of the late 19th century. The crystal-shaped feet are mounted parallel to the main body, while on all later models they turn diagonally to it. In addition, the brass side rails of the case are straight, without canted corners, as on later examples. Only the Ebenstein clock (and one wall clock) lack this element. This rectangular case with canted corners was the standard model until 1906, at the latest, at which point Loos developed a new tapering form for the clock in the Friedman apartment in Vienna. Other elements—numerals, hands, face, canted corners, feet placement—remained as they were in previous years.

    The rectangular case of the present clock positions it prior to 1906, and its face and dimensions plead for 1900. The date painted on the reverse of its face—15.12.911, or December 15, 1911—would be a typical repair notation of the period, as well as a common practice today. The present lot is a fine and rare example of the few surviving clocks designed by Adolf Loos.

    Sainte-Maxime, November 2014


Early table clock

circa 1900
Copper-plated brass, brass, steel, beveled crystal.
21 3/8 x 16 1/4 x 10 1/4 in. (54.3 x 41.3 x 26 cm)
Case probably produced by Johannes Heeg, Vienna. Reverse of face painted later with 15.12.911. Together with its double-end case and clock key.

$100,000 - 150,000 

Sold for $158,500

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The Collector: Icons of Design

New York Auction 16 December 2014 5pm