18 Jun 2011 - 09 Oct 2011
180 St Kilda Road
Influences on the Secession
In forging a new direction of artistic expression, Secession artists looked to other schools of artistic thought for inspiration. The Secession itself became a catalyst for inviting foreign artists to exhibit in Vienna, including artists from Great Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.
The first issue of the Secession’s journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring) published in January 1898 declared:
‘We desire an art not enslaved to foreigners, but at the same time without fear or hatred of the foreign. The art of abroad should act upon us as an incentive to reflect upon ourselves; we want to recognise it, admire it, if it deserves our admiration; all we do not want to do is imitate it.’
In this spirit of internationalism, the Secessionists proceeded to showcase works by major European artists and designers at their exhibitions, among them Vincent van Gogh, Aubrey Beardsley, Edvard Munch, Odilon Redon Max Klinger, as well as works by American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler. The Secessionists also presented their own work within this dynamic international context.
In 1900, the Secession's eighth exhibition was devoted entirely to exploring contemporary trends in the applied arts. Several foreign artists were invited to exhibit including the 'Glasgow Four': Charles Rennie Mackintosh, his wife Margaret Macdonald, and Herbert and Frances McNair.
Mackintosh's stylised art nouveau furniture, a mix of geometric and tightly controlled sinuous forms, had a significant influence on the Secessionists, particularly architect and designer Josef Hoffmann and artist and designer Koloman Moser.
Charles Robert Ashbee
English designer Charles Robert Ashbee also participated in the exhibition, his display of 53 works forming the second largest exhibit.
Ashbee's London Guild of Handicraft, established in 1888, had a seminal influence on Secession designers who admired its ideals of truth to materials and hand-craftsmanship that afforded equal status to the craftsman and designer.
Its emphasis on close collaboration between artists and designers, a collaboration supported by the English Arts and Crafts Movement more broadly, influenced the intensely decorative evolution of the Viennese Secession.
Viennese artists also sought out non-Western art for inspiration. Fashion designer Emilie Flöge collected exotic textiles while her life-long companion, artist Gustav Klimt, went to Ravenna, Italy, in 1903 to study Byzantine mosaics. Klimt also studied Russian icons and owned a collection of Asian and African artefacts. The Secession exhibition devoted to Japanese Art in 1900 continued to exert a powerful influence for both artists and designers.
Artists also looked to the vast ethnographic resources of the Austro-Hungarian Empire for inspiration, particularly native folk art, which they could see in Viennese museums. Likewise the inheritance of early nineteenth century Biedermeier furniture, hand crafted, uncluttered and thought to be bourgeois, was inspirational for furniture design.