KRIMPER, Schulim; Sideboard
In postwar Australia, growing consumer confidence and demand for luxury goods led to an increased awareness of, and greater markets for, Australian design. Furniture designers embraced the modernist trends of modularity, simplicity and potential for mass production inspired by the work of American and European designers, such as Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen. Unlike other local designers such as Clement Meadmore and Grant Featherston, Schulim Krimper preferred the autonomy and quality control of a commission-based business. His exacting standards of cabinet-making are seen in the sweeping lines of this elegant black bean sideboard, recently acquired by the Gallery.
Krimper rose from humble beginnings to be at the vanguard of Australian postwar design during the 1950s and 1960s. Born in 1893 in the eastern European region of Bukovina (a region now divided between Romania and Ukraine), Krimper undertook an intensive four-year apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker. Settling in Berlin in the 1920s, he became aware of modernist design principles, but, in the face of escalating anti-Semitism, Krimper and his wife Elsbeth joined other family members in Melbourne in 1939, where he resumed cabinet-making in a workshop and shopfront on High Street, St Kilda.
The restrictions and austerity of the World War Two period meant that Krimper was reliant on government contracts for producing ammunition boxes. After the war, however, his work came to the attention of family friend and National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) assistant director Robert Haines. This led to the NGV’s acquisition of examples of Krimper’s work, and the staging of an exhibition of Krimper’s furniture at the upmarket Melbourne store Georges Limited. In the 1950s, when Haines was Director of the Queensland Art Gallery, he purchased a pair of black bean benches directly from Krimper for the collection and, in 1956, he curated an exhibition of 12 Krimper pieces at the Rockefeller Centre, New York. Following Krimper’s death in 1971, a memorial retrospective exhibition of his work was held in 1975 at the NGV, with a catalogue by curator (and Krimper authority) Terence Lane.
Krimper’s ability to reinterpret functional components — such as dovetail joints, drawer handles and locking mechanisms — as design features, with emphasis on the natural beauty of the timbers he worked with, brought him great recognition, even at a time when experimentation in synthetic materials was the popular fashion. He worked in a variety of Australian timbers including Queensland black bean (Castanospermum australe), and also more exotic species from Africa, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand.
Constructed in black bean, Sideboard 1952 was commissioned for a family home in Toorak, Melbourne. Renowned for his passionate and eccentric persona, Schulim Krimper reportedly issued instructions on the decoration of his clients' homes in order to complement his furniture. This magnificent sideboard joins a focused collection of Australian postwar furniture in the Australian collection galleries, alongside significant sculptures and paintings of the 1950s and 1960s.
Angela Goddard, Artlines 1-2010, p.34.
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