This elaborate bentwood cradle was lined with thick cushions to create a soft, sheltered, egg-shaped bed for an infant. The sinuous and sensual design, with the elegant, curved forms of the cradle and the long vertical arm that supported draped netting, reflects the popular Art Nouveau style of the time. Such cradles could be found in stylish, bourgeois homes all over Europe.
Bentwood designs became ubiquitous as seating for cafés and gardens and later as elaborate, upholstered domestic furnishings. Inexpensive, durable, light, and ideal for export because components could be assembled after shipping, pieces such as J. & J. Kohn's cradle became perfect symbols of the new industrial age. The bentwood process had been developed by the German designer Michael Thonet in the mid-nineteenth century in order to make appealing functional furniture efficiently and economically. In 1867 the manufacturer J. & J. Kohn became Thonet's chief competitor, opening factories in several international locations.
Bentwood furniture was made by steaming lengths of wood and then bending them and placing them in metal molds to dry. The resulting standardized sections were assembled with hardware instead of the traditional hand-carved joints. The idea of standardized elements revolutionized the principles of furniture production.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 38.