Secession

The Vienna Secession was the name given to the group of artists, architects and designers that broke away from the main establishment of Viennese artists to form their own group. Formed in 1897, its radical period was brief yet its impact on the cultural life of Vienna and beyond was immense and enduring.

This group aimed to create new, progressive art, to bring contemporary international art to Viennese audiences and to provide a forum for the discussion and distribution of new ideas about art and culture.

The Secessionists – among them Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich and Alfred Roller – were united by a shared desire to integrate art into all aspects of life. They aimed to bring purer forms to art and design and to make a separation from the historical styles of the past. They viewed all forms of art and craft as having equal status and aspired to the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) that encompassed all aspects of the visual environment.

The Vienna Secession was not characterised by one single style but was linked closely with Jugendstil – literally 'youth style', the German-speaking world's adaptation of Art Nouveau. Art Nouveau was an international art movement that was characterised by its use of flowing curved lines and plant forms. Viennese Jugendstil evolved over time to incorporate greater emphasis on simplified forms and geometric motifs.

Exhibition highlights

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In 1898, the Secessionists built an exhibition building to present the work of their members, as well as that of favoured international artists. Designed by Joseph Olbrich, the building was based on simple cubes and spheres. Its minimal white façade was contrasted by a dome decorated in gilded laurel leaves – symbolic of purity, victory and dignity.

The Secession marked a turning point for art in Vienna, opening the way for artists to explore new forms. From the influence of the Secession emerged artists such as Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, who found original ways to express their inner world as well as external realities.

Differences of opinion led many of the more progressive artists, including Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, to leave the Secession in 1905.

Timeline

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria

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