Felice Rix-Ueno. Murals in the restaurant Actress, ca. 1963. Tokyo, Japan. © The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto.
Felice Rix-Ueno and Isaburo Ueno. Design for Star Bar, 1930. Pencil, gouache on paper. Kyoto, Japan. © The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto.
Felice Rix-Ueno. Left: Design for a cushion, 1929. Right: Design for a candy container, 1925. Pencil, gouache on paper. © MAK.
Felice Rix-Ueno. Box, Wiener Werkstätte Model No. E 1672, 1929. Brass, ebony, enamel. © MAK/Katrin Wißkirchen.
Felice Rix-Ueno. Wiener Werkstätte textile Archibald, 1913–1917. Cotton, printed. © MAK/Katrin Wißkirchen.
Felice Rix-Ueno. Swatch cards of Wiener Werkstätte textiles Tramino, 1925, and Tokyo, 1924. Silk, cardboard. © MAK/Nathan Murrell.
Left: Felice Rix-Ueno. Wiener Werkstätte textile Clove Scent, 1926. Silk, cardboard. © MAK/Nathan Murrell. Right: Kitty Rix. Ceramicist at the wheel, Wiener Werkstätte Model No. K 571, 1920. Red shard, multicolor glazed. © MAK/Kristina Wissik.
Felice Rix-Ueno, executed by Georg Lichtscheidl. Cigarette case, Wiener Werkstätte Model No. BL 4315, 1929. Leather, wool, opal. © MAK/Tamara Pichler.
Exhibition view of Stars, Feathers, Tassels: The Wiener Werkstätte Artist Felice Rix-Ueno (1893–1967) at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK), 2023. MAK, Central Space MAK DESIGN LAB, Vienna, Austria. © MAK/Georg Mayer.
Felice Rix-Ueno, ca. 1925. © MAK.

Felice Rix-Ueno

by Paul Makovsky

Blending Secession style with traditional Japanese techniques in early 20th-century Vienna, artist and designer Felice Rix-Ueno created a unique artistic and design language that transcended geographical and cultural boundaries. Her playful motifs across architectural interiors, textiles, and accessories attest to the richness of cultural exchange and collaboration of the time.

An artist by training, Felice (“Lizzi”) Rix was born in Vienna in 1893 to a wealthy Jewish family of entrepreneurs. While studying architecture with Josef Hoffmann at the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts, she worked as a textile and product designer for the Wiener Werkstätte. Eventually joined by her younger sister Kitty, a ceramicist, Felice produced hundreds of designs, mostly patterned textiles but also wallpapers, enamel works, fashion and interior accessories, toys, and commercial art, which were shown both in Austria and abroad. In 1918, when Hoffman designed a new Wiener Werkstätte store in Vienna, Felice was charged with designing the ceiling, which she adorned with fantastical birds, feathers, and long-stemmed flowers—motifs that would appear again and again in her later work.

In the early 1920s, she met Japanese architect Isaburo Ueno, who was working with Hoffman in his studio after briefly studying architecture in Berlin. In 1925 Rix and Ueno married and moved to Kyoto the next year. There, the young couple opened the Ueno Architectural Office, where Isaburo planned the buildings, and Felice worked on interiors while continuing to design textiles, furniture, and products. She co-designed the 1930 Star Bar in Kyoto with Isaburo, which was shown alongside work by Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, and other avant-garde modernists in the Museum of Modern Art’s iconic International Style show in 1932—but only her husband was credited on the design of the project.

Rix-Ueno worked extensively with traditional Japanese techniques such as yūzen dyeing, a method used for decorating kimonos, and her designs often mixed Secessionist and Japanese motifs, placing geometric patterns alongside natural, ethereal design elements: stars, feathers, butterflies, blossoms, morning dew, even the scent of carnations. She usually enhanced the motifs with vibrant color schemes, believing that “fantasy” was key to the design process. To Rix-Ueno, this meant demonstrating one’s own imagination to achieve originality.

Rix-Ueno’s work for the Wiener Werkstätte was typical of the wave of companies marketing to the “New Woman” with specially designed products including jewelry, perfume and smoking accessories, and beaded drawstring bags. Tassels—emblematic of a new way of living that embraced freedom, prosperity, and flamboyance—also figured prominently in her designs for jewelry, colorful geometric cushions, and women’s cigarette cases.

After World War II, Rix-Ueno became a professor of design at Kyoto College of Art, and during the early 1960s, she and her husband started the International Design School, where she influenced a generation of Japanese artists and designers. Her journey from Vienna to Kyoto, and her subsequent fusion of Western and Eastern aesthetics, created a distinctive and experimental style that redefined textile design. She died in 1967 at the age of seventy-four, and her legacy is a vibrant reminder of the enriching potential of cross-cultural artistic endeavors. In recent years, various museums have begun to celebrate her work for a new generation of admirers, including a retrospective in 2021 at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, and a 2023 exhibition at the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna, Rix-Ueno’s first solo show outside of Japan.

Stars, Feathers, Tassels: The Wiener Werkstätte Artist Felice Rix-Ueno (1893–1967) is on view at the MAK through April 4, 2024.

Paul Makovsky is the editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT magazine.