Wallpaper Design by Otto Eckmann

Illustration: Otto Eckmann. Wallpaper design, c1899

Otto Eckmann can be counted as one of the most interesting and diverse designers of his period. When he took up a second career in design at the end of 1894, he put a symbolic end to his first career as a fine art painter by auctioning off his entire collection of work, so as to start anew and fresh as a decorative artist.

Eckmann was involved in the design work of textiles and in particular embroidery and tugs, ceramics, metal, furniture, wallpaper and graphics. It is with wallpaper design that we are concerned with in this particular article. All of the wallpapers featured here were produced by Eckmann in around 1899. They are a stunning display of an individual's approach to wallpaper design and shows that Eckmann was neither overly influenced nor cowed or intimidated by the long history and traditions of the wallpaper industry, particularly by an individual who was approaching commercial design from a fine art background.

Illustration: Otto Eckmann. Wallpaper design, c1899

It could be said that it was actually Eckmann's artistic experience that gave him a particular edge over some of his rivals. It was the individual approach to both styling and composition that made his work appealing for both its novelty and its decorative potential. It was this external attitude that often produced work by artists and designers that stood out when they approached another and relatively unfamiliar discipline, achieving results of unexpected and unusual directions. However, this was not always the case and there were some spectacularly dire results of cross-discipline experiments. These failed ventures have proved to be of a serial nature and have dogged the decorative arts world down to our own contemporary era, mostly in the form of celebrity design launches.

Illustration: Otto Eckmann. Wallpaper design, c1899

Eckmann himself was not of this ilk and the wallpaper design work that he produced from the 1890s until his death in 1902 at the incredibly early age of thirty seven, show a clear definition of his approach to the decorative arts. It has been said by many that the artist turned designer was heavily influenced by the Japanese artistic and decorative format, and while this is true to a certain extent, it can only ever be classed as one thread of the creative work of Eckmann, not the only one.

It is the graphic work produced during the last years of his life that tended to influence the rest of his work through the various disciplines. This is an interesting development as many of the decorative arts had come to rely on the defined graphic quality of flat design. This came to be particularly true at the end of the nineteenth century when considering the textile and wallpaper disciplines for example. A number of illustrators and graphic artists became involved in wallpaper design at the turn of the century and there was a relatively busy and productive cross-pollination of ideas and theories that was to include the whole world of poster art, text, book illustration and wallpaper design.

Illustration: Otto Eckmann. Margueriten wallpaper design, c1899

It was this fruitful period that coincided with the general European Art Nouveau movement, known more specifically in Germany as the Jugendstil of which Eckmann became one of the leading lights. It was with the help of the individual styling of Eckmann's work along with that of others in Germany, that the Jugendstil made its own unique contribution to that of Art Nouveau, often countering to a certain extent, the inbuilt and often overly conscious flamboyance of the French and Belgian versions of the movement.

As with so many scenarios of the early death of a talented individual, it would have been interesting to have known how Eckmann had he lived past 1902, would have affected and influenced not only the dynamics of German decorative arts under the Jugendstil, but much further a field towards that of German Modernism. How his own personal career would have faired during the first and most important half of the twentieth century, we will never know.

Illustration: Otto Eckmann. Self Portrait

Reference links:
Modern Style: Jugendstil/Art Nouveau 1899-1905
Jugendstil, Graphik und Druckkunst
Art nouveau in Munich: Masters of Jugendstil from the Stadtmuseum, Munich, and other public and private collections
Jugendstil Art Nouveau
Ornament und Illustration um 1900: Handbuch fur Bild- und Textdokumente bekannter und unbekannter Kunstler aus der Zeit des Jugendstil (Asthetik der Alltagswelt) (German Edition)