Switzerland 1889 – 1943
Vertical and horizontal composition c.1928 Materials & Technique: paintings, construction of oil on composition board
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.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra