Biedermeier

The stylistic expression of the rising middle class, Biedermeier appeared soon after the Napoleonic Wars and the political turmoil in the countries of central Europe between 1815 and 1848. In style and with respect to the spirit of the time Biedermeier was best expressed in interior decoration and the decor of burgher interiors. Applied art, particularly the furnishing of the time, in forms and decorative elements, drew on Neoclassicism. Although in its essence opposed to the monumental and grandiloquent character of Empire design, Biedermeier furniture did borrow some of the decorative motifs of Empire.

In contrast, bric-a-brac of glass, china and paper is of a sentimental nature and is given an entirely unpretentious form.

North west Croatia, at that time politically, economically and geographically related to the Habsburg Empire, was mainly focused on Vienna – the centre of production of Biedermeier furniture. Particularly valuable for the national history of fine craft are the displayed wardrobe and drawing room suite of one of the most important domestic craftsmen, Antun Goger, who worked in Varaždin. The wardrobe was his masterpiece of 1833 and one of the very few signed and dated pieces of furniture in Croatia. The exhibited drawing room suite is also attributed to the hand of Goger; it consists of a sofa, four chairs, an oval table and a foot stool. It is done in wood stained black, often used in this period. The suite is high quality work with clean, reduced forms that surpass the standard production of the period.

Characteristic Biedermeier types of furniture are: a display cabinet for the exhibition of decorative objects, often mementoes, a sofa with a characteristic pastel floral and striped cotton fabric of the time, a round table with a central pillar, and also two interesting items of sewing tables. A globe-shaped sewing table was once owned by the family of Gjuro Szabo, former director of the Museum of Arts and Crafts. A more refined version of this type of furniture is a small table in the form of a boat with a number of cubby holes.

The chairs on display document the numbers of variations in the formation of this part of the furnishing of the Biedermeier living space. The chest of drawers, the folding table and corner cupboard are items of furnishing that manifest one of the main requirements of the time – functionality, but also show some other features of the style: bodies of straight surfaces and lines, stylised architectural elements, sound workmanship and use of local types of wood, the natural structure of the veneer becoming the main decorative element in the furniture.

The displayed glass objects illustrate what is a characteristic kind of glass in this period, imitating other materials, and a diversity and richness of decoration techniques. The cups and sauces with allegorical scenes and commemorative inscriptions were frequent items meant for giving or bought as souvenirs from trips. They quite often also have individual marks (initials, monograms, coats of arms) and are of a unique character.

Porcelain production during Biedermeier is shown by various forms of saucer of the Viennese manufactory. Among the most interesting are saucers done especially for the Croatian market, with patriotic inscriptions, like one with verses of “Our Beautiful Country”.

The character of Biedermeier painting is seen in particular in the portrait genre and the portrait miniature. The interest of the artist was focused on the psychological characterisation of the sitter and on decorative elements – drapery, jewellery, incidentals. Among examples from the painting collection, the portraits of Slovene painter Mihael Stroy stand out. He was trained in the Viennese Academy, and worked in Zagreb from 1830 to 1842. In this period he did the likenesses of wealthier members of the middle class in Zagreb Varaždin, Krapina, Trakošćan and Samobor. Portrait miniatures are a particularly important and popular form of Biedermeier painting, but the genre was displaced by the discovery of photography. The miniatures displayed are portraits of the Zagreb circle of miniaturists, the most numerous of them being those by Jakob Stager.