středa 26. srpna 2015

Mšeno Art Deco Swimming

During the recent heatwave I went out to see a friend near Kokořín and after walking around the nearby forests we decided to cool down in the local pool. Given the temperatures, with everyone out it was a dip rather a swim.

The swimming pool in Msěno is a unique structure surrounded by a lush lawn with a backdrop of sandstone rocks. It is one of the few recognizably art deco swimming pools in the country with many authentic details. The pool was inspired by a much more sophisticated example of a swimming pool and leisure grounds in Klánovice, which we would today recognise as a kind of country club. Unfortunately it no longer stands and can only be viewed in period photos.
In Msěno the unknown architect decided to go for the contemporary Rondo-Cubist art-deco style while mimicking 19th century spa colonnades where the hot springs .The main building is divided into 3 parts, each with a different purpose.
Some of the Rondo-Cubist details
A view from the rotunda

A good sausage can never be missed!

 The central rotunda was conceived as the bar and dining room which could also hold an orchestra for live music. The right wing is enclosed in case of bad weather and was used meant as a restaurant, reading room and lounge. To the left is the open veranda containing individual sitting booths each with its own table and chairs. This section also has more of the “service” part of the building as it houses the cloakrooms , changing rooms and bathrooms most of which can still be seen  today in near original condition. All the windows and other architectural details are formed in the typical rounded cubist style down to the light fixtures. The veranda roofs are held up by pairs of pillars reminiscent of those in spa town colonnades.
The open left wing
The focal point of course is the swimming pool which is relatively generous by the standards of the day and has a luminous turquoise colour .Flanking the main  steps into the pool are two quintessentially art deco water fountains which provide a certain amount of whimsy . Pyramidal in shape with a ball finials, they follow through on the rondo cubist theme while also providing symmetry.
The water fountains

Built in the early 30’s was part of the interwar drive to provide citizens with a sports and leisure venue as well as hygiene facilities. Many houses did have indoor plumbing but not bathrooms as Jan Kilián a historian whose has written extensively about the swimming pool states. That is why they are aptly also called the Msěno Public Baths and still have one of the original bathrooms complete with fixtures and tub. Patrons (mostly women) could soak in these tubs for a fee for the period of 40 minutes.

The original bathroom with fixture

 Another impetus for the building of such leisure venues was the changing lifestyle of the younger population where sports and the outdoors played a greater role as workers became entitled to paid leave. Havinga tan became a status symbol rather than a scar of manual labour.
I was not able to find out if the furniture is original or repro
The men’s changing room is an austere affair

Although not as well-known as the Barrandov Terraces swimming pool and restaurant which is an icon of interwar Czechoslovak glamour , this pool still has its claim to fame as it features in the debut film (Indian Summer)of the young Klára Issová. As Andrea Turjanicová mentions in her final thesis (Open-air Swimming Pools in Czech Architecture of the 1920s–1940s) most such places were built either in the above mentioned “spa “style or took a radically modern direction in the form of functionalist structures as the Barrandov pool, which today is derelict and further marred by the highway and bridge right in front of it. The diving platform became the emblem not only of Barrandov   pool but more generally of the sleek figures of those who used it.
The enclosed right wing
 These outdoor swimming pools were almost always fed by nearby natural sources of water making them pretty cold but were also designed as a social gathering place for the entire community. Unlike contemporary “aqua parks” which are mainly aimed at children these were focused at an adult clientele which is also reflected in the design and layout of the pool. The trend of building outdoor swimming pools went on into the 80’s when they were gradually overtaken by indoor year round pools and the eventual proliferation of private garden swimming pools.
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Credit to: Andrea Turjanicová, Diplomová práce,Koupaliště jako architektonický úkol.Univerzita Karlova v Praze,Filosofická fakulta,Ústav pro dějiny umění,Praha 2009
                 Jan Kilián ,Městské Lázně Mšeno, Městský Úřad Mšeno,2004

středa 5. srpna 2015

Silver In The Age Of Castles - Zámecké Stříbro II

The 19th century brought  much needed democratization to the use of silver which was spurred on by the industrial revolution. The use of domestic silver moved down the social ladder and became a marker of middle class respectability. Marketing became the driving force behind the new silver making industry. Whereas before the production of silver was the domain of individual silversmiths or small workshops, the 19th century saw the mass production of silver which was often produced by machines at least in part. Most often as it is still today, the basic forms were made by machines and then finished by hand. These new developments brought cities like Birmingham in the UK or Germany’s Hanau wealth and fame.

An example of a small silver plate creamer that would have been available to almost everyone at the end of the 19th century.

As this new market was driven by the middle classes or perhaps better said the “starting classes” people who had previously not been able to afford domestic silver on a large scale, they needed to be educated. Manufacturers ceased the opportunity to introduce new items and create a need for them. Especially American companies such as Reed & Barton, Gorham and Tiffany came up with ranges which counted hundreds of pieces in a single pattern.

The  sterling silver grooming set of  countess Alice Haugwitz /Vienna Austria/1934  - Náměšť Nad Oslavou  

 The most famous such “invention” was fish cutlery which was sold to the 19th century middle classes as a necessity  and has remained  with them ever since. Soon, there had to be a special utensil for each dish as table settings got bigger and bigger mimicking the aristocracy of the previous century. The new middle classes were also in part responsible for the “historicizing” aesthetic which appeared on much of the new silver as the century progressed .By using older styles of decoration which recalled the baroque, gothic or renaissance periods , the middle classes were able to buy into the idea that they maybe also had a bit of family history while sitting down for Sunday lunch. Some manufacturers went as far as adding “pseudo marks” or old assay marks from an earlier period to add a bit of age.
A detail of the grooming set
Formal dining also changed and the fashion of serving food
“a la russe” became the norm, this meant that each course of the meal was brought to the table after the previous had been finished. This left the center of the table empty to display elaborate center pieces, jardiniers and eperngnes.

A table set “a la russe”
Technological developments at the end of the 19th century also began the slow decline in sterling silver production. The invention of electroplating meant that objects made from a simple base metal could be covered with thin layer of silver or gold. The electroplated items are indistinguishable from sterling silver items making them very popular with customers. Now even the lowest strata of society could own a piece of “silver” .While retailers were happy with a broadening market the elites saw little reason to own what everyone else had. Silver had lost its cache of privilege. At the same time alloys such as alpaca emerged which also gave the glimmer of the real thing. Alpaca objects can still be affordably bought in antique or junk shops alike and give a perfect impression of sterling.

Pair of art nouveau silver-plate salad servers
  The period after WWI saw the gradual change in the status of silver, to start with almost all homes were electrified and a result the shiny glimmering effect of polished silver was no longer as apparent under artificial light. Further, the number of servants began to decrease as did the number of people who could afford to employ them. Polishing silver which had always been done by servants was now seen as quite labor intensive to housewives.

Jardinière sterling silver /mixed metal?/ Austria 1884-State Castle Český Krumlov
 In Europe the years following WWII did not help silver very much either. Postwar design was concerned with effectivity, practicality and new materials, which were not expensive to make. The new generation of designers worked with plastic, synthetic fibers and stainless steel which had been perfected by the military during the war. Dedicated dining rooms were becoming a rarity as eating, even entertaining in the kitchen was becoming the norm. As dishwashers became a standard appliance, many found that their sterling silver got damaged when washed this way.

A monogrammed ladle handle

  The USA was in a different situation, after the war there was a surge in wealth with many of the returning GIs entering the consumer middle class. But even then, most of the new patterns of silver flatware were based on historical examples with differed very little from what was made 60 years earlier.
An interwar monogram
For the parents of today’s baby boomers who were looking for a modernist aesthetic, silver simply fell off the radar. The only exception were for example, George Jensen ,Gio Ponti or designer Day Van Truex both of whom produced contemporary but upscale stuff. 

Gio Ponti, Swan For Sabattini 1978: Sterling Silver.

In communist Czechoslovakia, newly produced silver was almost unheard of, the little that was produced was either exported on destined for the exclusive hotels and restaurants. As dining on silver was viewed as a quintessentially bourgeois practice, the regime did as much as possible to discourage such „bad habits”

A set of tea spoons with original mark of the purveyor

Today most silver that exists in Czech households is mostly inherited or bought in antique shops. Considering that Bohemia was never a particularly wealthy country, most silver is flatware which unlike Anglo-Saxon silver is also never decorated. Bigger objects such as hollowware are never seen. In some cases the silver sold in Czech antique shops is brought from other countries to be sold at a higher price. A few years back it was the Russians who were main buyers of such objects. Many young people also do not see silver as very practical and prefer to keep it a box hidden away if they own any at all.

A British sterling silver-wood coffee set 1918-1919(zámek Hluboká nad Vltavou)

Image courtesy of Galerie České spořitelny
The  exhibition  not only shows important pieces of silver which were given as diplomatic gifts or prizes at contests but also looks at table silver in the context of European dining history The numerous paintings serve as examples of how items were used. Goblets and chalices are particularly well represented as they were often whimsical  and showed the skills of the silversmith.