Elephant Trunk Table with glass inset tiles. Designed by Adolf Loos (Austrian, 1870–1933), ca. 1900, Made by Friedrich Otto Schmidt, Loetz Witwe (glass tiles), Vienna, Austria, ca. 1910. Museum Purchase from General Acquisitions Endowment Fund. 2005-22-1.

 

Finding animals in furniture

I love to try to “read” an object. Looking at the Elephant Trunk Table (Elefantenruesseltisch in German), it is easy to see why it was so named. What is less clear is why this design came into being. The table’s eight legs, which might suggest an octopus, look like elephant trunks. They also suggest the S-shaped cabriole legs found on tables and chairs starting in the first half of the 18th century, such as in this chair, also part of the Museum's collection:

Verre églomisé chair
Verre églomisé chair with cabriole legs, 1705–10.

The word “cabriole” comes from the Latin capra, meaning goat, and refers to the shape of the table's legs being similar to a goat’s legs. At least the goat stands on its legs, unlike the elephant’s trunk, so the latter is a more whimsical choice for a table leg. In addition, the trunk-like leg does not just connect to the top, but it descends from a looped design that mimics the curves of the top, like swagged curtain valences while suggesting an elephant’s downturned head from which the trunk-leg continues.

Adolf Loos’s interest in solid materials and functionality is seen in the solid wood legs, with brass mounts to protect both the feet and the edge of the table top. In an unusual nod to decorative themes, however, this top has striated veneers that set off the striations of the nine iridescent glass tiles arranged as a central inlaid square. This model of table often featured inset tiles, although commonly of ceramic or stone. These glass tiles, made by the Bohemian firm of Loetz Witwe, show the central European interest in recreating the iridescence of archeologically excavated ancient glass. Although popularized by Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York and at World’s Fairs, many of the earliest experiments in iridescence were in central Europe.

Museum Number: 
2005-22-1