Gründerzeit – Wilhelminian style furniture 1870 to 1914

The German term Gründerzeit – often also referred to as the Gründerjahre – generally refers to the period that began with the founding of the German Empire in 1871 and ended in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War.  In its formal language, the Gründerzeit was associated with historicism, was thus oriented to neo-Baroque ideas and ideals and testifies to a great interest in historical and mythological themes.

Wilhelminian Style (Gründerzeit ) is the most important tradition in German decorative arts and furniture design, dating back to the 1870s and became widely popular after World War I and the fall of the monarchy.

The Gründerzeit became famous for a great freedom in the application of the formal language of different epochs. This openness prevailed not only in furniture making, but was also evident in architecture as well as literature. The formal language of historicism gives the furniture of the Gründerzeit its very own charm. It is particularly characterized by the absorption and imitation of older artistic styles and decorations. Despite this effort of older formal languages, it is precisely this coincidence that can be understood as a harbinger of classical modernism.

The impact of the Wilhelminian period on the furniture styles of other nations was diverse. On the one hand, it was heavily influenced by the Biedermeier (a period in 19th century Europe in which the First French Empire and a similar period in the rest of Europe. In Germany, Biedermeier was coupled with Prussian militarism). On the other hand, it was intimately linked to the impact of the style on the furniture-buying markets, which had an advantage for inexpensive modern designs. The example of the domestic market can illustrate the importance of the changing trading patterns. For three decades before World War I, the status of furniture in German domestic life was much as it had been for decades in the rest of Europe.

What’s so unique about this style?

It was the first time that modern art and art history fused with a “softer” lifestyle. Due to the hard-line conservatism of the Bismarck era, the Wilhelm Era (1870-1918) was unique in German history in that it welcomed modernity and all it had to offer. It was a period in which some members of the conservative population were anxious about the rapid changes taking place in society. Still, in the end, it was a period of enormous development and innovation that pushed the boundaries of German art, architecture, and design.

Characteristics of wilhelminian style furniture

Wilhelminian style furniture is characterized by the adoption of decorations featuring traditional German motifs and carving and carving on a greater scale, as well as more restrained and decorative forms, such as broad framework and decoration in colored iron. However, the figures were often in relief, as is now common. In common with the cabinet furniture of the Wilhelminian era, the curving forms of the furniture often evoke the shapes of waves. They are suggestive of the exuberance of the times.

An overview of the most important style elements of Wilhelminian style furniture

– Columns: They are among the most conspicuous style elements of the Gründerzeit and are mainly found on cabinets, where they are attached – often doubled or also as half-columns – as lateral ornaments, which seem to carry crowning attachments. Columns are either divided into base, round shaft and capital, or, for example, intertwined, which the specialist calls a carved column.

– Pilasters, also called pilasters: They are often confused with columns because they are also divided into base and capital. However, their shaft is not round, but shows a board shape. For this reason, pilasters are also called board columns. Their front edge is called “mirror”.

– Capitals: they are the most decorative elements of columns, pillars and pilasters. Due to their Greek origin, they are mainly referred to as Ionic, Doric and Corinthian capitals. The simplest is the Doric capital, which is only slightly profiled; the Ionic capital has volutes – spiral-shaped decorative elements; between them is an ornamental bar. The Corinthian capital has the richest decoration. Its volutes are placed above the corner; below them are folded acanthus leaves as leaf-shaped ornamental pieces.

– Bases: A base is the foot of columns, piers or pilasters. In the Wilhelminian period, they are usually turned together with the column shaft from one piece of wood.

– Fluting: Also called fluting, they divide a surface vertically by parallel furrows – mainly on the shafts of columns, pilasters, piers and pilasters.

– Balusters: Balusters form a special type of column often found on Wilhelminian furniture: they are strongly bulbous, short, profiled or turned columns, such as those found as console superstructures for mirrors.

– Crowning tops: They are among the most typical style elements of the Wilhelminian period and usually decorate representative chests of drawers or verticos, but also classic wall cabinets. A crowning attachment is a purely decorative element, often consisting of small columns, a gallery surrounding the attachment and a crown-like finial, for example in the form of a shell.

Antique furniture of the Wilhelminian period – a sign of tradition and lasting value to this day.

Antiques of the Wilhelminian period are still among the most popular pieces of antique furniture. This is not least due to their diverse design language and the extremely careful design, which testifies to a wealth of ideas and the highest craftsmanship. For even if the furniture artists of Art Nouveau in particular expressly distanced themselves from the massive and expansive manufacturers of Wilhelminian furniture and developed their own fiery, sweeping formal language: To this day, Wilhelminian furniture is so popular among connoisseurs not only because it embodies traditional values. Rather, they already reveal many elements of the clearly structured formal world of later classicism and even modernism. Thus, they never go out of fashion and complement – especially as a single piece – almost any furniture style from classic to modern. If you want to buy Gründerzeit furniture, you will find a rich assortment, especially in large furniture, which leaves almost no wish unfulfilled: Whether ladies or men’s desk, half cabinet, cabinet, buffet, credenza or classic facade cabinet – next to Biedermeier and Art Nouveau, the Gründerzeit is still one of the most popular eras among lovers of high-quality antique furniture.