|ANNE WANNER'S Textiles in History / publications|
|Embroidery Designs by Willi Koch
a paper, given at the CIETA meeting of 1991 in Copenhague, Denmark, by Anne Wanner-JeanRichard
|In the collection of the
Textile Museum of St. Gallen there is a great number of
handkerchiefs, collars and cuffs dating from 1850 to
1900. They are decorated with fine whitework embroidery
and many of them were embroidered in the region of St.
Gallen. In this paper I want to show a group of these
works of applied art which were designed and embroidered
in the eastern part of Switzerland.
So far the
following documents indicate that the art of embroidery
was known in St. Gallen:
|Independent of these
documents some time ago I found a box with 170
designs for whitework embroidery in the
neighbouring museum of Frauenfeld. The designer's name, Willi
Koch, is written on one of the pieces.
The paintings came to Frauenfeld in 1920 and according to the inventory book of this museum they were created between 1850 and 1860. This means that they are older than the designs kept in the textile library of St. Gallen..
With the help of archives and with St. Gallen
inhabitants' registration the following facts could be
embroidery worked after
was born in 1823, he was a designer and he settled in St.
Gallen in 1857. His wife was Dorothy Ochs, they had 2
In the Journal of St. Gallen of August 4th 1866 another trace of W. Koch could be found. In an advertisement he offered sewing machines. It seems that he was more successful with this firm - it can be found in the addressbook of the city up to the end of the century:
in 1897 the name is Koch-Ochs, Wilhelm
in 1899 the name is Koch-Ochs, Dorothy, widow
Willy Koch died on november 13th, 1897.
The years of Kochs's early embroidery business were very important ones. The Swiss Federal constitution of 1848 brought a standardisation of measurements, of money, of the postal system. Therefore the time to establish new enterprises was favourable. Hand embroidery at that time had already been known for 100 years in and around St. Gallen. In 1851 Swiss hand embroideries were very successful at the Great exhibition in London. But in those years another technique became more and more important - it was machine embroidery. The world exhibition of 1862 in London showed these new and inexpensive products. Times for handembroidery became very hard and many companies were not able to survive. Hand embroidery moved back into the mountainous part of Appenzell where it has survived as a cottage industry up to the present days.
Let us go back to Willi Koch and his designs. His works of art are very fine miniature paintings, executed with white paint on brown or blue paper. In addition,
|parts of preprinted fabrics
were pasted to the same brown paper. In this way he
imitated relief embroidery and lace decoration. It can be
said, that the designs for fine application embroidery
were his special effort.
Supposedly the finished works of art must have been very expensive and therefore not easy to sell.
I am now going to show some of the designs and compare
them with dated works of applied arts of the region. We
can distinguish 2 main subject groups, which are:
Flowers and ornaments:
- example of a painted cupboard
of 1830, made around the time of Willhelm
design of Wilhelm Koch
for relief embroidery
around 1850, Historic Museum of Canton of Thurgau, Frauenfeld
Inv.Nr. T 1785-75
part of hand
written examination paper,
|Flowers bound into
garlands and bouquets or shown in baskets are
the most common motifs of the "Biedermeier"
style. In the first half of the 19th century in the
eastern part of Switzerland it was customary to write
documents for examination day at schools as well as
congratulations for special occasions. Our artist could
have written similar documents during his early
The textile museum of St. Gallen owns a handkerchief with a basket of flowers on it. There is no doubt that this embroidery was made according to Koch's design. A very similar piece kept in the Cleveland Art museum in USA proves, that designs could be used several times. One definite piece of hand embroidery is not imperatively also a unique piece of art.
Here I would like to deal very briefly with another kind of embroidery design, which also very often showed flowers and was well known in the 19th century, namely the patterns for cross-stitch or Berlin work. This kind of graphic art developed between 1830 and 1840 in Berlin, and reached its heyday between 1840
|and 1850. The most famous
publisher was L.W. Wittich. There were
other publishers in southern Germany as well, and from
here many of the patterns came into the collection of the
textile library in St. Gallen.
As far as the technique is concerned, the motifs were first engraved and then hand-painted by homeworkers. Later on, around 1870, they were lithographed. Koch must have known these patterns and he might have been influenced by the motifs.
In Koch's paintings we find bell-shaped and
exotic flowers and similar motives appear for
instance on ladies collars.
design for gobelin work
design for a
engraving by Jean Pillement
design for relief embroidery by Wilhelm Koch
|Now the second group with landscapes
and figures will be treated:
Koch's painting of fir-trees and rabbits could be regarded as a local Appenzell landscape. I want to compare this motif with another kind of contemporary graphic art. It is a souvenir picture of 1857. The border around the representation of the city of St. Gallen is ornamented with embossed and punched paper and thus imitates lacework. Some of the local souvenir engravings show similar fir-trees, especially the one which was edited by the publisher Benziger at Einsiedeln. Such prints had become possible since 1852 with the invention of the lithographic high-speed printing machine and a special embossing and punching method. The new lithographic technique was used for splendid books like reprints of manuscripts, but also for souvenir or devotional and religious pictures.
The most important prints were published in big European cities, but the company of the Benziger Brothers in the small and remote village of Einsiedeln, central Switzerland, was able to meet this competition. Benziger's printing and publishing house originated from the printing house of the Benedictine monastery, which went into liquidation in Napoleonic times when the monks abandoned the monastery. The last technical director then started to develop the business on a private basis. The years 1833-60 were important. Benziger always had the latest technical acquisitions. Members of the Benziger family were appointed to leading positions. A good education was important and in the 1840s and 50s sons of the Benziger dinasty visited schools in St. Gallen.
|Another series of landscapes
can be compared to the peasant painting of
Appenzell. Since the second half of the 18th
century, figurative painting appeared on peasant
furniture. In the early 19th century the circular wooden
bottoms of milking pails were painted. After 1865 we also
find painted panels. Mostly the driving of the cattle to
the high alps is shown. Often perspective is neglected in
favour of narrative details. The type of art showing the
herdsman's life became an established tradition. One of
the artists, Johann Jakob Heuscher
(1843-1901) painted panels and he also designed
embroidery patterns. This proves that there are links
between the fine naive painting and the art of Appenzell
A final group of Koch's landscapes shows figures in exotic surroundings. One may think one is looking at Chinoiseries. This may be due to the influence of Pillement. It could also be a consequence of the opening-up of China in those years. In St. Gallen there is a printed commercial report dating from 1861. Here a Dr. Lindau tells about his expedition to China in 1859. With the report he sent a collection of Chinese fabrics and a description of Chinese clothing to St. Gallen. Our example shows a figure in a ship. An embroidery with a very similar scene was worked according to this design. Today it belongs to the collection of the Art Museum of Cleveland USA.
picture, view of St. Gallen, 1858,
picture, with Appenzell embroideresses,
Wilhelm Koch, for relief embroidery
Wilhelm Koch, for relief embroidery
part of peasant
painting, by Franz Anton Haim, 1890,
peasant painting, the mountain "hoher Kasten",
|A very interesting
handkerchief with a hunting scene is
preserved in Stuttgart. Unfortunately the design does not
exist in Koch's collection, but the embroidery was
purchased in 1857 at the industrial exhibition in Berne.
So it seems very probable that W. Koch was the creator.
Besides in Koch's collection there are other exotic
hunting pictures. Wondering where Koch could have been
inspired to depict such scenes, I found the book "voyage
prittoresque dans le Brésil". The pictures
were done by Joh. Moritz Rugendas. This
artist was born in Augsburg in 1802, and he travelled in
South America in the 1820s. Later on he met Alexander
von Humboldt in Paris and together they chose
100 pictures for the book. The text was going to be
written by V.A. Huber, correspondent for Cotta publishers
in Stuttgart. Rugendas stayed in South America for a
second time and he returned to Germany in 1847. It seems
possible that Koch met him in the last 10 years of his
life. These years must have been Koch's years of training
and education. So far I do not know anything certain
about this period of his life, but stays in Paris, Lyons.
Munich are possible.
I would like to close with a group of designs which are probably inspired by silhouettes of the 2nd half of the 19th century. Maybe they are the latest of Koch's designs.
|It seems possible that Koch,
while dealing in sewing machines, continued with the
embroidery business. Appenzell embroiderers used to have
a collaborator in St. Gallen who supplied them with
material and designs, and who would also take care of the
selling of the pieces.
The time consuming relief
embroideries and the exotic scenes slowly disappeared,
but flower motifs and lace-stitch work continued to be
Summarizing it can be said that Koch was a designer of figurative whitework embroideries which can be dated in the years between 1850 and 1860. These works represent a culmination of hand-embroidery in the eastern part of Switzerland. Any further development was difficult because of the stiff competition of the machines, and it is very tipical for the situation that Kochs business had to be liquidated in 1861. It seems that the rest of Kochs life was running quietly, he died in 1897 without special opitary notice. His artitic genius lived on in his grandson who was in our days a honoured and well known painter in St. Gallen.
handkerchief with hunting scene,
|Section of the socalled panoramic wall paper with the views of Brasil, made in the manufacture of Zuber in Rixheim, Alsace, close to Mulhouse, 1829/30|
of handkerchief, with ship under palmtree,
Detail of design
by W. Koch, 1860,
by Christiane Luise Duttenhofer,
Design by W. Koch,
|A very great talent in
the art of silhouettes was Christiane Luise
Duttenhofer (1776-1829) from South Germany. This
kind of applied art was part of the education of
well-to-do citizen's daughters.
Garland with für Johann Georg August von Hartmann
|content||Last revised 30 November, 2004|