Peter Behrens was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1868 and died in Germany in 1940. He trained in architecture and design at the Gewerbeschule in Hamburg from 1886 to 1888, and in painting at the Kunstschule in Karlsruhe from 1888 to 1891. In 1893 he joined the avant-garde design group Münchner Sezession, and in 1897 he founded the Vereinigte Werkstätten für Kunst im Handwerk (United Workshops for Art in Handwork). He produced buildings and designs for objects for the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony in 1901 before moving to Düsseldorf to head the Kunstgewerbeschule from 1903 to 1907 and to establish the influential design association Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Association). From 1907, he worked as the product designer for the giant German industrial company Allgemeine Elektrizitäts Gesellschaft (AEG), designing electric kettles, fans, clocks and complete buildings and interiors, while also working as a designer for other ceramics and glass manufacturers.
This electric kettle was designed and produced during Behrens’s early and most productive period. It is a development of the well-known electric kettle produced by AEG from 1909 (and later by Gebrüder Bing, from 1920 to 1924). It was part of a range that was produced from standardised parts and available with different handles—a particularly interesting transitional design showing Behrens move from the handcraft aesthetic of the Arts and Crafts and Jugendstil styles of the late nineteenth century to the direct expression of industrialised production processes and materials. This kettle is presented in polished brass with machine-hammered decoration, a cane-covered handle and ebonised wood knob. While retaining an organic form and texture, it also incorporates the modern and practical aspects of electric power with a solid heating element that slides out for replacement. Its serial number indicates that it was manufactured prior to 1914.
This humble appliance shows how the major German industrial designer of the early twentieth century was able to bring modernity to the domestic environment.
in artonview, issue 57, autumn 2009