Einstein and Thonet

Albert Einstein leaning against a Thonet Chair in Madrid, 1923

Albert Einstein

leaning against a Thonet or Thonet alike bentwood chair in Madrid, 1923.

I received this photo today as a nice surprise for publication here from one of our Spanish readers, Álvaro de la Cruz-Dombriz. Thank you Álvaro!

The big question for me is now: “Is it a Thonet chair, and, if so, what model?” Note the leg ends resting in copper or zinc pods.

Excellent for our Chairchez L’Homme series.


Álvaro suggests in a comment this is the Thonet no. 20. However, I’m not sure or just headstrong . My first reaction when seeing the photo was: “Not a Thonet”, because if you compare the diameter of the back with the body of Einstein, the bentwood back is almost arm thick. Usually a back of a Thonet Chair is much thinner. However it is very well possible: I’ve checked Swiss Thonet expert Dieter Staedeli’s gallery of Wiener Moebel: He comments:

Thonet no. 20

Thonet No.20 chair of Vienna, around 1872. The model went into production 1870-71. The early 20s are made in a very strait and not very comfortable back design. But this very chair form is exemplary for the first production models and are sought after collectibles. At about 1875 found in all models of Thonet chair gradually switching to ergonomic back forms

Update 2: A Thonet or not a Thonet?

Further to the comment of Geert, I found a nice Bentwood dedicated blog which featured a Thonet (Halb?)fauteuil no 20:

Thonet Fauteuil no. 20

Update 3: Chairvertizing

I’ve added this post to our Chairvertizing series. What is better than to use a famous person to make your chair (more) famous, or the other way around: Take a famous chair to become (more) famous yourself;-)

Last edited by Guido J. van den Elshout on December 15, 2011 at 5:36 PM

11 thoughts on “Einstein and Thonet”

  1. I once designed a luxury washroom inspired by Albert Einstein and although I never saw this image before I used the original Paris Cafe chair as one of the side chairs. This would of been hard to source but none the less would of worked perfectly. A timeless chair!

  2. Einstein’s “Thonet” is a later version for sure with a more reclined back. It is also possible it is a Kohn version. As Kohn had the no. 20 in production as well.

  3. I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. It’s not a genuine Thonet. As a collector of bentwood furniture I’m able (in most cases) to see if something’s a Thonet or not from very small details, without having to see a paper label or stamp. The way the end of these armrests (were they are fixed to the backrest) is finished is different from Thonet. The way the Thonet chairs were made also evolved, but Thonet never made them in this way. My guess is it’s a “Halbfauteuil” model nr. 20 made by FISCHEL. But it could also be made by one the many other companies that made copies of the Thonet models. By the way, in some other posts on your nice blog you posted pictures of chairs that are not genuine Thonet, like for example the Café Daum chair and the settee nr 5. Even the Thonet Museum in Boppard has a FISCHEL Café Daum settee in it’s collection. I know this, the director knows this, and many other collectors, but a simple visitor will never see the difference and will be convinced it’s a genuine Thonet because it’s in a Thonet Museum… Things are not always what they seem.

  4. Thank you for your nice input Geert. Although I’m certainly not a connoisseur, more an amateur, I doubted it myself. I also noted Kohn had a similar no.20 in their collection from an old ad I saw somewhere.

  5. No thanks, and you’re right about Kohn. Many bentwood companies copied the popular model nr. 20 and even gave it the same number in their own catalogues. The Kohn chair nr. 20 is a copy of the Thonet chair nr. 20.
    By the way: can I mail you some pictures?

    1. Hi Geert

      If I sent you pictures of 2 antique chairs I have just bought would you be able to verify if they are real Thonet? They have been painted over so many times that any marking or stamp is no longer visible.



  6. I am searching for the source of this photo with Einstein standing next to a thonet chair and trying to find out where the original photo is located now (e.g. a particular photo archive or museum). Since you were given this photo from a Spanish reader for publication on your blog, would you by any chance have any information on this? Thanks!

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