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A Biedermeier interior, Berlin: fitted
carpets, unified window and pier-mirror draperies,
and framed engravings in a restrained classicising style
In Central Europe, Biedermeier refers to work in the fields of
literature, music, the visual arts and interior design in the period
between the years 1815 (Vienna Congress), the end of the Napoleonic
Wars, and 1848, the year of the European revolutions and contrasts with
the Romantic era which preceded it. The style corresponds to the Regency
style in England, Federal style in the United States and to the French
Literature and music
The term Biedermeier comes from the pseudonym Gottlieb Biedermaier,
used by the country doctor Adolf Kussmaul and the lawyer Ludwig Eichrodt
in poems, printed in the Munich Fliegende Blätter (Flying Sheets),
parodying the poems of the Biedermeier era as depoliticized and
petit-bourgeois. The name was constructed from the titles of two poems (Biedermanns
Abendgemütlichkeit (Biedermann's Evening Comfort) and Bummelmaiers Klage
(Bummelmaier's Complaint)) that Joseph Victor von Scheffel had published
in 1848 in the same magazine. As a label for the epoch, the term has
been used since around 1900.
Typical Biedermeier poets are Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, Adelbert
von Chamisso, Eduard Mörike, and Wilhelm Müller, the last two of which
have well-known musical settings by Hugo Wolf and Franz Schubert
respectively. Adalbert Stifter is a novelist and short story writer
whose work also reflects the concerns of the Biedermeier movement,
particularly with his novel, Der Nachsommer. As Carl Schorske puts it,
"To illustrate and propagate his concept of Bildung, compounded of
Benedictine world piety, German humanism, and Biedermeier
conventionality, Stifter gave to the world his novel Der Nachsommer".
Biedermeier can be identified with two trends in early
nineteenth-century German history.
The first trend is growing urbanization and industrialization leading
to a new urban middle class, and with it a new kind of audience. The
early Lieder of Schubert, which could be performed at the piano without
substantial musical training, illustrate the broadened reach of art in
this period. Further, Biedermeier writers were themselves mainly
middle-class, as opposed to the Romantics, who were mainly drawn from
The second trend is the growing political oppression following the
end of the Napoleonic Wars prompting people to concentrate on the
domestic and (at least in public) the non-political. Due to the strict
publication rules and censorship, writers primarily concerned themselves
with non-political subjects, like historical fiction and country life.
Political discussion was usually confined to the home, in the presence
of close friends. This atmosphere changed by the time of the revolutions
in Europe in 1848.
Biedermeier architecture is marked by simplicity and elegance,
exemplified by the paintings of Jakob von Alt and Carl Spitzweg. One of
the most elegant surviving Biedermeier buildings is the Stadttempel in
Vienna. Through the unity of simplicity, mobility and functionality the
Biedermeier created tendencies of crucial influence for the Jugendstil /
Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus and the 20th century.
Biedermeier was an influential style of furniture design from
Germany during the years 1815-1848, based on utilitarian principles. The
period extended later in Scandinavia as disruptions due to numerous
states that made up the German nation were not unified by rule from
Berlin until 1871. These post-Biedermeier struggles influenced by
historicism created their own styles. Throughout the period emphasis was
kept on clean lines and minimal ornamentality; as the period progressed,
however, the style moved from the early rebellion against Romantic-era
fussiness to increasingly flourished commissions by a rising middle
class eager to show their newfound wealth. The idea of clean lines and
utilitarian postures would resurface in the twentieth century,
continuing to the present day. Middle- to late-Biedermeier work in
furniture design represents the a heralding towards historicism and
revival eras long sought for. Social forces originating in France would
change the artisan-patron system that achieved this period of design,
first in the Germanic states and then into Scandinavia. Of course the
middle class growth originated in the English industrial revolution and
many Biedermeier designs owe their simplicity to Georgian lines of the
1800s, as the proliferation of design publications reached the loose
Germanic states and the Austro-Hungarian empire.
The Biedermeier style was a simplified interpretation of the
influential French Empire Style of Napoleon I. He introduced the romance
of ancient Roman Empire styles, adapting these to modern early 19th
century households. Biedermeier furniture grew out of the French Empire
Period, but used locally available materials such as cherry, ash and oak
woods rather than the expensive timbers such as fully imported mahogany.
Whilst this timber was available near trading ports such as Antwerp,
Hamburg and Stockholm, it was taxed heavily every time it passed through
another principality. This made mahogany very expensive to use and much
local cherry and pearwood was stained to imitate the more expensive
timbers. Stylistically, the furniture was simple and elegant. Its
construction utilised the ideal of truth through material, something
that later influenced the Bauhaus and Art Deco periods.
Many unique designs were created in Vienna. This is because the young
apprentice was examined on his use of material, construction,
originality of design, and quality of cabinet work, before being
admitted to the league of approved master cabinetmakers. Furniture from
the earier period (1815-1830) was the most severe and neoclassical in
inspiration. It also supplied the most fantastic forms which the second
half of the period (1830-1848) lacked, being influenced by the many
style publications from England. Biedermeier furniture was the first
style in the world that emminated from the growing middle class. It
preceded Victoriana and influenced mainly Germanic-speaking countries.
In Sweden, Marshal Bernadotte, whom Napoleon appointed as ambassador to
Sweden to sideline his ambitions, abandoned his support for Napoleon in
a shrewed political move. Later, after being adopted by the last Vasa
king of Sweden who was childless, he became Sweden's new king Karl
Johan. The Swedish Karl Johan style, similar to Biedermeier, retained
its elegant and blatant Napoleonic style throughout the 19th century.
Biedermeier furniture and lifestyle was a focus on exhibitions at the
Vienna applied arts museum in 1896. The many visitors to this exhibition
were so influenced by this fantasy style and its elegance that a new
resurgence or revival period became popular amongst European
cabinetmakers. This revival period lasted up until the Art Deco style
was taken up. Biedermeier also influenced the various Bauhaus styles
through their truth in material philosophy.
The original Biedermeier period changed with the political unrests of
1845-1848 (its end date). With the revolutions in European historicism,
furniture of the later years of the period took on a distinct
Wilhelminian or Victorian style.
The term Biedermeier is also used to refer to a style of early clocks
made in Vienna in the early 19th Century. The clean and simple lines
included a light and airy aesthetic, especially in Vienna regulators of
the Lanterndluhr and Dachluhr styles.