Michael Powolny (Judenburg 1871-1954 Vienna) is one of the best-known ceramic artists of the Viennese Art Nouveau and popular among Jugendstil collectors. He is very famous for his imaginative and decorative putti figurines. His contribution at the Palais Stoclet also shows his capability to design large sculptural works.
Our column with putto on a globe impresses by its sheer size. Powolny designed this ceramic sculpture in 1913 for the Winter Exhibition at the Museum of Art and Industry in 1913/1914. On contemporary photos this rare column is depicted in front of a niche-like floral wallpaper and thus well documented. The original version was manufactured by Vereinigte Wiener und Gmundner Keramik (VWGK) for the exhibition mentioned above. This specimen dates from around 1914 and was produced by the Wienerberger ceramics fabric.
The sculpture consists of three parts with the foot, the column itself and the putto boy with grapes. The central part is decorated with reliefs of putti and garlands. Arranged in a pattern repeat, stacked in rows one above each other, the putti seem to perform almost acrobatic lifting figures. At the same time – so interwoven in the floral tendrils – they suggest associations with ornamental grotesques.
The column is crowned by a putto boy: he stands, almost triumphantly, on the spherical base with grapes in his hands. Is it an allegory of autumn? Can it be regarded as a symbol of hedonistic pleasures and joie de vivre?
In designing this sculpture, Powolny certainly draws deeply from the centuries-old canon of forms and combines eclectic antique elements (column) with baroque ornamentation (putti, garlands). The artist skilfully plays with the contrast between relief-like and fully plastic elements. With the red colour of the body shimmering evenly through the white glaze, he also accentuates the qualities of the ceramic material.
With this ceramic column, Powolny proves himself in the expansive design of an Art Nouveau interior, apart from the so popular small decorative sculptures of the Wiener Keramik.
Bib.: comp. catalogue raisonné by Elisabeth Frottier, “Michael Powolny. Keramik und Glas aus Wien“ (Michael Powolny, Viennese ceramics and glass), Böhlau Verlag, Vienna-Cologne 1990, nr. 157 and 159; Depicted in DK, vol. 25 (1917) as “ceramic column with putto”, p. 131.