- Museum number
Fish knife and fork; silver, with engraved decoration on knife, the handles ornamented with relief tear-drop motifs.
- Production date
Length: 18.50 centimetres (fish fork)
Length: 21.50 centimetres (fish knife)
- Curator's comments
- Text from J. Rudoe 'Decorative Arts 1850-1950 A catalogue of the British Museum collection' 2nd ed.1994. no. 14.
'Behrens trained as a painter and worked in Munich in the 1890s, exhibiting there with the Vereinigte Werkstätten in 1899. In the same year he was invited to join the newly established artists' colony in Darmstadt, where he turned to architecture and interior decoration, designing his own house, complete with furniture and fittings, ceramics, glass and cutlery.
These pieces are from a service for meat and fish. For contemporary illustrations of the meat cutlery, see Dekorative Kunst, 1904-5, 422; for examples in museums in Hanover and Hamburg, see Mosel, C. 'Bilderkataloge des Kestner-Museums Hannover, Xl. Kunsthandwerk im Umbrach, Jugendstil und zwanzwiger Jahre', Hanover 1971, no. 9 and Spielmann, H. et al, 'Kataloge des Museums für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg v. Die Jugendstil-Sammlung. Band 1: Künstler A-F', Hamburg 1979, no. 101.
There are apparently no contemporary illustrations of Behrens' design for the fish cutlery, but a number of examples survive, showing various modifications. For example, the fish-knife blade was not always engraved (Solingen, Deutsches Klingenmuseum. 'Bestecke des Jugendstils', R. Sanger, Cologne 1979, no. 8 and Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 'Peter Behrens und Nürnberg', ed. P. Schuster.1980, no. 77, from the collection of Giorgio Silzer). Other examples of the knives and forks show a more streamlined design for the blade and prongs: the outward curves and points are absent and there is an additional lozenge motif where the handle begins, as well as engraving on the fork to match that on the knife (Munich, Museum Villa Stuck, 'Silber des Jugendstils', 1979, no. 141, private collection). The smoother overall outline suggests that this may be the original Behrens design, whereas the examples with blades and prongs of a more traditional curving shape may be later modifications by the manufacturers. Another possibility is that Behrens designed only the meat cutlery and that the fish cutlery was added by the manufacturers, hence the variations. Further examples of both the fish and meat cutlery in large and small sizes are held by the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt (Heppe, K.B., 'Die Düsseldorfer Goldschmiedekunst von 1596 bis 1918', Düsseldorf 1988, no. 254-7), by the Museum der Künstlerkolonie, Darmstadt (Ulmer, R. 'Museum der Künsterkolonie, Darmstadt, Katalog', Darmstadt n.d.1990, cat. no. 20), and by the Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlsruhe (formerly Silzer collection; see Franzke, I., 'Jugendstil', Badisches Landesmuseum, Karlesruhe, Bestandeskatalog 1987, no. 253, for a meat fork and a fish knife).
Most of the examples cited above are described as bearing the manufacturer's mark of the firm of Franz Bahner, Dusseldorf, where Behrens was director of the Kunstgewerbeschule from 1903 to 1907. The design appears in the firm's pattern-book (n.d., no. 6200, see Solingen, Deutsches Klingenmuseum 'Bestecke des Jugenstils', R. Sanger, Cologne 1979). However, recent research has established that many silver firms acted as wholesalers/ distributors and finishers only; these wholesalers often insisted that the goods should be supplied without manufacturer's marks (Bremen, Bremer Landesmuseum (Focke Museum), 'Bremer Silber von den Anfagen bis zum Judendstil. A. Lohr. 1981, 20; see also van de Velde, Decorative Arts 1850-1950, Cat. 291). Alternatively, the wholesalers had their own names stamped on goods by the manufacturers (Sanger, R. 'Massenfabrikation in Silber-Bemerkungen zur Tafelgerate- und Bestekindustrie im rheinischwestfallischen Raum', 'Der westdeutsche Impuls 1900-1914. Die Margarethenholhe. Das Schone und die Ware', exhibition catalogue. Museum Folkwang, Essen 1984; see also Olbrich, Decorative Arts 1850-1950 Cat. 225). Thus examples also occur without Bahner's mark: the pieces in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, bear only German assay marks and the distributor's name, 'G Heisler'.
Bahner had a representative in Denmark from at least 1914; the use of higher 830 silver standard current in Denmark, as distinct from the 800 standard current in Germany, confirms
that the British Museum pieces were made for export. According to the Kleines Export-Handelsbuch of 1903 (contained within the Adress- und Handbuch für das deutsche Goldschmiedegewerbe, Leipzig 1903), foreign wares sold in Denmark were to be stamped with the name of the distributor, not the manufacturer. For another example of German cutlery sold in Denmark, see Decorative Arts 1850-1950 Cat. 296, by a related Düsseldorf firm.
Anton Bahner took over the firm of Butzen in 1879; his son Franz founded the firm of Franz Bahner in 1895; hollowware was discontinued in 1903 in favour of cutlery. P. Bruckmann, in his 1909 account of silverware manufacture in Germany, noted that Bahner was exceptional in producing high-quality silver cutlery in collaboration with artists (reprinted Brohan 11/ 2, 'Kunst der Jahrhundertwende und der zwanziger Jahre. Sammlung Karl H. Brohan, Berlin. Band II, Kunsthandwerk. Judendstil. Werkbund. Art Deco. Tell 2. Metall, Porzellan', Berlin 1977, 511-13). The Illustrierte Zeitung of March 1914 also noted Banner's speciality as the production of silver cutlery in all styles (Sanger 1984, 207). The firm closed before 1967 (see Heppe 1988, 39-41).
During his four-year period as director of the Kunstgewerbeschule in Düsseldorf, an appointment heavily influenced by the success of his master-classes in Nuremberg (see Decorative Arts 1850-1950 Cat. 17), Behrens established contact with a number of local industries. Thus the designs of the Kunstgewerbeschule, by both pupils and teachers, were put into production. For discussion of Behrens' activity in Düsseldorf, see Moeller, G. 'Peter Behrens und die Düsseldorfer Kunstgewerbeschule 1903-1907' 'Der westdeutsche Impuls 1900-1914. Düsseldorf. Eine Grossstadt auf dem Weg in die Moderne', exhibition catalogue, Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf 1984.'
See also 1988,0111.1-2.
- Not on display
- Acquisition date
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number