Koloman Moser (1868 – 1918)

One of the most prodigious and versatile of the remarkable group of artists and designers who founded and shaped the Secession movement and the Wiener Werkstätte, Moser brought to his designing the training and temperament of an artist. He excelled in interior and exhibition design, applied arts, graphic design and, finally, as a painter.

Koloman MOSER (designer)
Austria-Hungary 1868-1918
Cover of Ver Sacrum 1898
volume 4, published by Gerlach & Schenk, Vienna 1898
colour lithograph
29.4 x 28.8 cm
Collection of Christian M. Nebehay GmbH, Antiquariat & Kunsthandlung, Vienna

Moser was born in Vienna and studied at both the Viennese Academy (where he studying under highly respected but conservative painters) and the School of Arts and Crafts. In the early years of the Secession he was a major force determining the design and content of its ground-breaking journal Ver Sacrum. Its lively and stylish graphic design became a model for graphic design internationally.

Vision and Initiative

One of the founders of the Secession in 1897, in 1903, together with his colleague, Josef Hoffman, and the financier Fritz Waerndorfer, Moser established the Wiener Werkstätte. A tireless organizer and innovator, there was no area of the Vienna Workshop's production to which he did not contribute. He also travelled widely in Europe and was alert to contemporary movements in all the arts.

Innovation and Flexibility

Between 1901-2 he created a portfolio of designs titled Flächenschmuck which were intended to be adapted for flat-surface production such as floor coverings,textiles and wallpapers. His designs, at first close in spirit to Art Nouveau arabesques and floral motifs, show an increasing shift towards a more restrained and formal aesthetic, inspired by Japanese textile patterns and designs. These designs stayed in production for many years – a measure of their success and versatility.

Koloman MOSER (designer)
Austria-Hungary 1868-1918
WIENER WERKSTÄTTE, Vienna (manufacturer)
Austria-Hungary 1903-32
Flower basket (Model no. S 781) 1906
21.3 x 7.2 x 4.3 cm
Asenbaum Collection

A versatile, creative achiever

His outstanding achievements number the stained glass windows and of Wagner's Steinhof Church (1904), his influence on Graphic design at the beginning of the twentieth century and his elegant and severely geometric metalwork and furniture designs in which cubic form presides as a functionalist aesthetic. His use of colour – especially in glassware – was unexpected and radical. Together with Hoffmann he also worked on the interior design and furniture for the Purkersdorf Sanitarioum fulfilling the Secession's Gesamstwerk principle. He even designed distinctively Secession-style postage stamps and Reform dresses for his wife. Moser's was an inspired, inherently creative genius.

Koloman MOSER (designer)
Austria 1868–1918
PORTOIS & FIX, Vienna (manufacturer)
Austria est. 1881
The enchanted princesses, corner cabinet 1900
padouk wood, nickel plated white metal, copper, glass
171.0 x 53.0 x 33.0 cm
Private collection, Portola Valley, California

Return to Painting

Internal conflicts within both the Secession in 1905 and the Wiener Werkstätte in 1907 caused him to withdraw from both institutions, following which he returned to painting.

Koloman MOSER
Austria 1868–1918
Self-portrait c.1916–17
oil painting on canvas on cardboard
74.0 x 50.0 cm
Belvedere, Vienna

At first, influenced by the Swiss artist Ferdinand Hodler's strangely mystical landscapes, Moser made a series of spare, yet beautifully observed paintings of the Austrian Alps, simplifying composition and naturalistic detail and heightening colour in the service of a cosmic stillness. In the last few years of his shortened life (he died of cancer aged 50) he concentrated on monumental figurative images that exemplify the Vitalist philosophy of Idealized man then sweeping much of Europe.

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria