It has been assumed that this panel, and others like it, served as working maquettes for Taeuber-Arp's interior decoration of the Café de l'Aubette on the place Kléber, Strasburg, commissioned in 1926 by Paul and André Horn.1 In carrying out the commission — a large project that incorporated a tea-room, pâtisserie, several bars, function rooms, a ballroom, a cellar nightclub and a cinema — Taeuber-Arp enlisted the help of her husband, Jean Arp (1887-1966) and Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931). It was a collaborative affair with Taeuber-Arp remaining responsible for the decoration of the tea-room, the Aubette bar, possibly the foyer bar, and the billiard room. The decoration was completed by 1928 but disapproval from the café's clientele soon brought about alterations. Within twelve years nothing of the original interior was visible.2
Contrary to a common assumption, the design and distinctive triptych format of the Australian National Gallery's panel has little in common with the panels of painted wood rectangles and squares which Taeuber-Arp placed on the ceiling and walls of the tea-room in the café. However, photographs of the stained-glass windows, particularly that ascribed by Karl Gerstner to the bar,3 closely resemble the design of the Gallery's panel, as does the surviving fragment of a window in the collection of the Musée d'art Moderne, Strasburg.4 A watercolour in the collection of the Kunstmuseum, Basle, which is identical in design to the Gallery's panel, is subtitled Esquisse pour vitraux.
If the Gallery's panel is related to a stained-glass window in the Café de l'Aubette, it is unlikely that it was made as a study or maquette. The panel has a painted wooden frame which is contemporary with the panel itself and, with other panels whose designs follow the decorations of Aubette, it appears to have been work of art in its own right rather than as a 'working maquette'. Possibly it was made after the Aubette commission as a means of preserving the design in a durable and exhibitable form, as those same designs were being destroyed in the Café de l'Aubette itself.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.179.
- See for instancee, Carolyn Lanchner, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1981 (exhibition catalogue) p.13. Other assumed to be related to Aubette are in the Musée d'art Moderne, Strasburg; and the Foundation Jean Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Rolandseck, Germany.
- Renovations carried out at the Café de Aubette in the early 1980s have revealed portions of the original painted walls intact beneath panelling and wallpaper.
- Karl Gerstner, Die Aubette als Beispiel integrierter Kunst', Werk, no. 10, October 1960, p.377.
- Extant fragment of stained-glass window reproduced in the exhibition catalogue Sophie Taüber-Arp, Musée d'art Moderne, Strasburg, 1977, cat. No. 77. The connection between the Australian National Gallery's panel and the stained-glass windows of Aubette has been convincingly established by Suzie Attiwill in 'The Modern Fairytale: The Café Aubette, Strasbourg, 1928', BA thesis, University of Melbourne, 1983, cf. pp.29-33.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010