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Chapter 27 - Gustav Klimt, and the Vienna Secession Movement

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Heinrich Lefler’s illustrations in Die Bücher der Chronika der drei Schwestern (Book of Chronicles of the Three Sisters), 1900

At the end of the 20th century when Paris was at the grips of 'La Belle Époque', Vienna had become a Mecca for non-conformist young German speaking artists, who were dissatisfied with the art establishment's taste and its stranglehold on exhibition venues. Painters, thinkers, philosophers, musicians such as Klimt, Freud, Schoenberg, Wittgenstein, Loos, and others were busy in the creation of Modernism. For intellectuals Vienna had became the place to be in Europe because of this great era, Gründerzeit. As the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wrote in his memoir, The World of Yesterday, “We had eyes only for books and pictures… The city was aroused at the elections, and we went to the libraries. The masses rose, and we wrote and discussed poetry. We did not see the fiery signs on the wall, and like King Belshazzar of old we feasted without care on the precious dishes of art, not looking anxiously into the future.”

In 1897, Gustav Klimt along with 18 other artists; including Josef Hoffmann a designer, Jos­eph Maria Olbrich an architect, and Koloman Moser a graphic designer and painter, broke off from the Viennese Artists' Association. They called themselves Vienna Secession (Wiener Sezession.) The group declared no manifesto and did not set out to encourage any particular style. They could get some government support and they were offered a lease on public land to build an exhibition hall . They wanted to identify themselves as modern and different, and they wanted that their exhibition hall, designed by Jos­eph Maria Olbrich, to reflect this modernity and to break away drastically from the rigidity of Vienna’s long standing Academic taste. They cherished high quality craftsmanship and they were influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement's philosophy that art belongs to all, and their motto was, “To the Age its Art, to Art its Freedom.” The phrase was carved into their building and they felt free to create art as they pleased.

Many of these artists resort to children’s book illustrations, among other media,  in order to create aesthetically pleasing visual communication, whose rampant decorative patterns heralded the arrival of Art Nouveau in Vienna. In 1905, on the centenary of the death of the German poet Friedrich Schiller, Schiller-Festgabe der Stadt Wien (Schiller Festschrift of the City of Vienna) was printed and distributed to schoolchildren. This was considered Heinrich Lefler’s finest work . Other Viennese artists like Koloman Moser designed children’s books while using them as prototypes for their own work, while intellectuals Otto Neurath and Ernst Gombrich also contributed to the genre — the former with his pictogram innovations, the latter with easier-to-digest versions of his theoretical writings.

Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918)

Gustav Klimt was the founder and president of the Austrian Vienna Secession movement from 1897 to 1905. He was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna, the second of seven children — three boys and four girls, and his father was an engraver working with gold and silver. Klimt began his formal art training at the Vienna School of Decorative Arts (Kunstgewerbeschule), and at age twenty, he started his own studio mainly for mural paintings with his brother Ernst and Franz Matsch, a fellow student as partners. The studio was quite a success and he received many commissions from theaters, museums and other institutions.In 1888, he received the Golden order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to murals painted in the Burgtheater in Vienna. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna.

The Tree of Life, 1909
Gustav Klimt's style, like Art Art Nouveau, was highly decorative, but he applied gold and silver colors perhaps due to an influence from his father's profession. His most renowned painting The Kiss, was first exhibited in 1908. But the traditionally moralistic Viennese society did not approve of his nonconformity and were scandalized by his sensual, nude, and erotic paintings, to the extent that the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph II disliked his secession works and those of his Secessionists associates. His drivers had orders not to pass any buildings showing Secessionist art.

Avenue in the Park of Krammer Castle, 1912

Klimt also designed posters and worked as an illustrator for magazines. He worked in particular at Ver Sacrum (The Rite of Spring) magazine, which also had an exhibiting hall where artists could exhibit their works and publish their ideas in the magazine. During, the 1900- 1903 period Klimt worked on a series of ceiling murals for the Vienna University. In 1905 Klimt left the Vienna Secession after philosophical disagreements with Josef Hofmann. He died three years later in Vienna at 56, having suffered a stroke and pneumonia. He was buried at the Hietzing Cemetery in Vienna. His untimely death left numerous paintings unfinished.

Koloman (Kolo) Moser (1868-1918)

Koloman Moser was born in Vienna, he studied at the Wiener Akademie and the Kunstgewerbeschule, where he also taught from 1899. He spent his childhood roaming around the workshops of the school where his father worked, and he mastered the techniques for fashion drawings, book illustrations, ceramics, furniture, jewelry, fabrics, and all aspects of interior design, which gave him the perfect foundation for the arts and crafts movement that he helped to found and foster. Along with Joseph Maria Olbrich and J. Hoffmann (both members of the Siebener Club) and Gustav Klimt, he co-founded the Vienna Secession in 1897.

In 1903, together with his friend and colleague Josef Hoffmann, he founded the ‘Wiener Werkstätte’, whose workshops set trends that spread far beyond the boundaries of Vienna. As teacher, artist, and craftsman, Moser had an immense influence on the tastes of his time, and his talents ranged from stained glass to the design of stage sets and postage stamps. He devoted the last years of his life to painting, and in recent times his reputation in this field has steadily grown.

Secessionist exhibition poster, 1902

Moser left the Vienna Session at the same time as Gustav Klimt (1905) and in 1907 he left the Wiener Werkstätte as well. During his life he directed his attention to every sphere of applied art, designing furniture, glass, metalware, jewelry together with posters, toys and interiors. He was always looking to combine the predominantly geometric features with its surroundings in creating a rhythmical space of cubic forms and contrasting colors. Koloman was one of the designers for Austria's leading art journal Ver Sacrum. This art journal paid great attention to design and was designed mainly by Moser, Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffmann.

Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956)

The limitless harm done in the arts and crafts field by low-quality mass production on the one hand and by the unthinking imitation of old styles on the other is affecting the whole world like some giant flood…It would be madness to swim against this tide. Nevertheless, we have founded our workshop…
We seek to establish close contact between the public, designer and craftsman, and to create a good and simple household object. We start with function, usefulness is our first requirement. Our strength lies in good proportions and proper use of materials. Where possible, we shall attempt to be decorative, but not compulsively so and not at any cost. The value of artistic work and its design needs to be acknowledged and appreciated once more. The work of craftsman is to be held to the same standard as that of the painter and sculptor. We cannot and will not compete with cheapness; it is mainly achieved at the expense of the worker, and we feel that recapturing for him the joy of creation and a humane existence is our foremost obligation…

Joseph Hoffmann was born in Brtnice. Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. In 1887 he entered the Higher State Crafts School in Brno and worked with the local military planning authority in Würzburg. Thereafter he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna with Karl Freiherr von Hasenauer and Otto Wagner, graduating with a Prix de Rome in 1895. In 1987 along with artists Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, and Joseph Maria Olbrich, founded the Vienna Secession movement.

;Textile Design

In 1899, he became an instructor at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. He was a gifted industrial designer, and designed for a wide range of projects in architecture, furniture, utensils, clothing, book-bindings, posters, textiles, and wallpaper. Hoffmann was one of the most prominent Viennese proponents of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or " all-embracing artwork ." This was a thesis in the aesthetic theory of Richard Wagner, expounded in his Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (The Art-work of the Future, 1849). Wagner suggesting a dramatic work in which drama, music, poetry, song, and paintings should be united into a new and complete art-form. Adhereing to this theory, Hoffmann was also greatly influenced by John Ruskin, William Morris, Charles Robert Ashbee, and Otto Wagner, all of whom were dedicated to elevating the status of craft to that of fine art, and Hoffmann incorporated their teachings into the curriculum at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School for Arts and Crafts), where he was appointed professor at the age of twenty-nine.

Vienna Workshops Poster, 1905
Hoffmann founded the Wiener Werkstätte in 1903 with fellow Vienna Secession member Koloman Moser. It was a studio involved in jewelery making, the production of fabrics for dressmaking, the construction of furniture, ceramics and other art forms which could be incorporated into daily life. The Wiener Werkstätte aimed at pursuing elegance, a reduced vocabulary of form, functionality and appropriateness, which stood in contrast to the imitation style of Historicism. The result were : simplified shapes, geometric patterns, and minimal decoration. The majority of designs was supplied by famous artists, including Carl Otto Czeschka, Josef Hoffmann, Bertold Löffler, Dagobert Peche, and Koloman Moser.

 Textile Design,  Hoffmann's decorative style passed through a number of disguises over the decades of the Werkstatte from strict geometric to organic florals. However, the work was often part of a larger approach to design and decoration that used the idea of a paired down simplicity. Although it could be said that a large element of Hoffmann's work was based on the natural world with an emphasis on floral and foliage motifs, these were often juxtaposed with either angular or geometric motifs or at least that of a simplistic evaluation of nature as motif

In early 20th century, Hoffmann developed his geometrically refined signature style, characterized by its elegance, charm, and sophisticated simplicity that he incorporated in designs for silver, furniture, carpets, linens, and lamps as well as architectural forms. His designs were well received both in Europe and the United States, and his successes lasted well into the 1950s. However, in of spite honours and praises bestowed on him on the occasions of his 80th and 85th birthdays, time and taste had changed, and he was virtually forgotten by the time of his death at age 85. The process of rediscovery and reappraisal began in 1956 with a small book by Giulia Veronesi and during the 1970s gained momentum with a number of exhibitions and smaller publications. In the 1980s several monographs were published and major exhibitions held.

Berthold Löffler (1874-1960)

Berthold Löffler, was born at Ruzodol, Czech Republic (then Nieder-Rosenthal). He became a  Viennese  designer of graphic, ceramics, and jewelry.   At sixteen  years of age Löffler entered the Kunstgewerbeschule,  the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts to study art under F. Matsch and K. Moser.

 Poster for the first exhibition of Kunstschau (Art Show),1908.

After  graduation in 1900 he worked as a freelance painter and illustrator during the  next seven years.   In 1907, he accepted a professorship at  his old school, Kunstgewerbeschule where he taught until 1935.  In 1906, he founded the Wiener Keramik  (Vienna Ceramic workshop) together with his friend Michael Powolny, and a year later he became a member of the Wiener Werkstätte, which marketed their products at Wiener Keramik.  Löffler was also the founding member of the Österreichischer Werkbund.

Kaiser Huldigungs Festzug, Wien 1908

Heinrich Lefler (1863-1919) and the Hagenbund Rebellion

Heinrich Lefler, an Austrian painter, decorative artist and graphic designer, was born in Vienna. He was the son of Franz Lefler, a Bohemian painter who was a member of the Künstlerhaus in Vienna. Heinrich entered the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna, when he was seventeen years old, and studied under Christian Griepenkerl. He continued his studies under Nikolaos Gysis and Wilhelm von Diez in Munich at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste and was graduated at 1884, and seven years later he became a member of the conservative Vienna Künstlerhaus, and until the turn of the century he worked and exhibited with them.

Electric light. c. 1902

Under the artistic influence of his teacher Diez, Lefler started his professional career by creating symbolist paintings of fairy-tale motifs and landscapes, but gradually drifted towards Jugendstil style, and by 1897 when the Vienna Secession artists rebelled against the establishment he joined them.   He was a pioneer in the commercial graphic design in Vienna, and over the1896–7 period, he designed posters for companies  like Auerlicht. He also created posters for public events and periodicals, such as Kunst und Kunsthandwerk.

Children Book, Sanct Nicolaus
Lefler, and his brother-in-law Joseph Urban, illustrated children books and created the Österreichischer Kalender during the years 1898–9.  As well, he produced folios of prints, such as Dancing for the folio series Allegorien: Neue Folge, and designed menus, theater brochures,  and various type of logos.  Inspired by  Viennese legends and history. The pair also designed and created frescoes for the Rathauskeller in Vienna, and produced furniture, folding screens, clocks, jewellery boxes, embroidery, fans, and stage sets. Lefler was chief scene painter for the Wiener Hofoper under Gustav Mahler in 1900–03, and  was the designer for the festive procession for the 60th jubilee of Emperor Francis Joseph I in 1908.
Poster for Hagenbund, the Viennese Artists Hagen Association (1902)
Finally, in 1900, he and Urban rebelled against the Secession and formed their own organization, the Hagenbund, or the Viennese Artists Hagen Association.  The group's name derived from the name of the proprietor, Herr Hagen, of a Viennese inn they frequented. It was originally called the Hagengesellschaft, At first the group intended to remain within the Künstlerhaus, and they held their first two exhibitions on its premises. However, between 1902 and 1912, they exhibited independently in a market-hall (the Zedlitzhalle) converted by Urban. Lefler acted as Hagenbund's first President in 1902, and was an active member until 1909. However, the Hagenbund during Lefler's membership was in the shadow of the popular and successful Secession, and only in the years that followed the damaging resignation of the Klimt Group from the Secession that it began to emerge as an influential association. He became a professor at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna in 1903, and taught there until 1910.
Austrian World War I war bond poster showing a soldier in helmet invoking a medieval knight.  1917

Go to the next chapter; Chapter 28 - Poster Art as Social Commentary: Toulouse-Lautrec, Theophile Steinlen and Leonetto Cappiello

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