04 October 2008

Sonia Knips A Patron Leaves Her Mark On The Arts

A woman possessed of a coherent aesthetic sensibility and a wealthy husband, Sonia Knips (nee Baroness Poitiers des Eschellles) was a major patron of the the arts in fin-de-siècle Vienna.   When she sat for her portrait by Gustave Klimt in 1898, she was a newlywed and he was an up-and-coming artist.

Sonia Knips had known Klimt before she was married (see the sketch below, made in 1887) and there had been something of a romance between the two, ending with his rejection of her according to those who knew both of them.  Knips became acquainted with Klimt’s confidante, the designer Emile Floge: she wore and promoted “reform dress”, a material contribution to the emancipation of women in her day. With what mixture of emotions Knips  regarded the portrait that brought Klimt his first great success, we can only speculate.
Sonia Knips also commissioned Josef Hoffmann to design a country house for her family in 1903 and a family sepulcher in 1919. But the last thing Hoffmann designed for Sonia Knips – and his last urban villa – was a masterpiece on a level with Klimt's portrait.

Villa Knips (1924-25) possesses an impressive Arts & Crafts façade, accented by rows of diamond-shaped ornaments that mimic the design of the windowpanes. The interior was designed by Dagobert Peche (“the greatest genius of ornament that Austria has possessed since the Baroque”). Christine Ehrlich, a pupil of Hoffmann's, executed the exterior stucco decorative work.

Sonia’s bedroom suite was described in the Viennese press as “ a cross between an Oriental divan and a French boudoir”, decorated with a Venus designed by Susi Singer, paintings by Maria Strauss-Likarz, a small bar, smoking accessories, sweets, and wool for knitting. The suite also boasted a salon reserved for the Klimt portrait. Her dressing room was reconstructed at the Paris International Exposition of 1925, and later that year again displayed at Macy's New York store to much acclaim.