Karl Friedrich Schinkel - Important Design London Wednesday, March 20, 2019 | Phillips

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  • Catalogue Essay

    When in 1806 Napoleon defeated Prussia, resulting in a seven year-long occupation, it left Prussia bankrupt and decimated. In a famous speech by Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia in 1813, the king made an appeal to his people to trade gold and other precious materials for ornamental cast iron to revive the economy of their country. Cast iron rings, a token for the trade-in, with the inscription ‘I gave gold for iron’ consequently were seen as a sign of patriotism and distinction, giving the material a new status.

    Karl Friedrich Schinkel, a member of Prussia’s Oberbauamt (superior building authority) since 1810 and its director since 1830, was one of the most prominent Prussian architects of his time. Inspired by neoclassicism, Schinkel travelled to Italy but equally to the industrially advanced countries England and France, as he showed great interest in modern technology and mass production. After the final victory over Napoleon in 1815, a building boom unfolded in Prussia. Schinkel was in charge of several building projects in Berlin and surroundings, also for the royal family. Many of the royal residence projects were surrounded by large parks and gardens, for which Schinkel designed various outdoor furniture, predominantly made of the now popular material cast iron.

    His most famous design was the current model garden armchair, which subsequently was produced in all three Royal Prussian foundries in Berlin, Gleiwitz and Sayn. Shaped in the form of the antique x-chair and, in this specific example, featuring a lyre as the central motif in the backrest, this garden armchair demonstrates the architect’s affinity with and influence of neoclassicism. Equally, it embraced the industrial advancements of his time, as it could be serially produced. The refined cast iron parts in double-t-form allowed the architect to reduce the armchair’s weight by using less material. By elongating the iron rods that hold the two sides in place the foundries were able to fabricate a bench.

    Schinkel was the first architect to design serial produced furniture in cast iron, turning the material into a popular choice for the applied arts industry. As such, Schinkel’s cast iron creations can be seen as a great leap towards unifying art and industry, a goal central to the spirit of the nineteenth century.


Garden armchair

circa 1830
Cast iron.
78.7 x 48.5 x 43 cm (30 7/8 x 19 1/8 x 16 7/8 in.)
Possibly manufactured by the Royal Prussian iron foundry Sayner Hütte, Sayn, Germany.

£5,000 - 7,000 

Sold for £12,500

Contact Specialist
Madalena Horta E Costa
Head of Sale
+44 20 7318 4019

Important Design

London Auction 21 March 2019