From the beginning, the Vienna Secession Building advertised with fine art nouveau posters for each of the Secessionist art exhibitions. In late March 1898, for example, the Vienna Secession opened its first exhibition. In Sept 1899, the 5th exhibition was devoted exclusively to French drawings and graphics, including Renoir, Pissarro and Vallotton.
The 8th Secession exhibition was held in Vienna in late 1900. It included rooms filled by the Glasgow School and CR Ashbee's Guild of Handicraft. They presented works of the most important artists from the rest of Europe: Charles Rennie Macintosh, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Toulouse-Lautrec and Paul Gauguin.
The 14th exhibition in April 1902, was the best they put on - focusing on Beethoven. In early 1903, the Secessionists presented their 16th exhibition called The Development of Impressionism in Painting and Sculpture.
The Wiener Werkstätte/Vienna Workshops, founded in 1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, wanted the unification of the fine and applied arts. But the presence of these crafts-oriented individuals in the Secession did not warm the hearts of the many members who gave top priority to painting. Disagreements became more vigorous and so the Klimt Group went off on its own, within just two years of the Werkstatte’s formation.
The Kunstschau/Art Show of 1908 was arranged by a few artists in the Gustav Klimt Group and coincided with the celebrations held in Vienna for the diamond (60th) anniversary of Emperor Francis Joseph I’s reign. The artists were offered the use of vacant land, which had been designated for an eventual Konzerthaus, as an interim exhibition venue. In only a few months, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Klimt, Otto Prutscher, Koloman Moser and others built and furnished temporary buildings accommodating 54 exhibition rooms, gardens, interior courtyards, café, a summer stage and a completely furnished, two-storey country house.
Painting, sculpture, graphic arts, decorative arts and stage design were combined to create an art programme on exhibition premises covering 6,500 square metres. Indoor and outdoor floor space, walls, and showcases were filled and covered with works by 176 artists and many students from the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts.
Entrance to the Kunstschau exhibition hall*
Whereas the Procession of Emperor Francis Joseph I during the diamond jubilee year showed off the Habsburg monarchy’s long cultural diversity, the Kunstschau was somewhat different. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) , in an opening speech that apparently was quite moving, declared the Kunstschau was a show of force of Austrian ambitions in art.
For young artists and students like Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) and Egon Schiele (1890-1918), the Kunstschau was their first exposure to foreign art. And a brilliant exposure it was, too. But there was a downside. Notwithstanding the enthusiastic press reviews, and the enthusiasm of those who did turn up, the numbers were smaller than hoped for. Perhaps there was a deliberate campaign against the Kunstschau.
How do I know how the exhibition rooms were set up? In October 2008, 100 years after the initial exhibition, the show was recreated at the Lower Belvedere. A large part of the original exhibits was exhibited in replicas of the former exhibition rooms, as well as documentary photographs, models, original plans and films.
Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Fritza Riedler, 1906
*Had I been alive back then, I would have hoped that the Kunstschau of 1908 might improve the reputation of Gustav Klimt in mainstream art circles. But with hindsight, we can see that the good times were not going to last for long. With the deaths of Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser and Egon Schiele all during WW1, Austria’s flirtation with modernism came to a shuddering halt.
And after the war ended, it was even worse. The post-war economy could not feed its own citizens, let alone support an active art market. Even Kokoschka left Vienna and spent most of his long career outside the country. The Wiener Werkstätte and the Secession WERE still operating, but their impressive years were long gone.
Room depicting poster art