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.

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

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.

Eizan KIKUGAWA (after)
Japan 1787-1867
Albert BERGER (lithographer and printer)
Austria-Hungary 1863-1931
Poster for the 6th Secession Exhibition 1900
colour lithograph
101 x 20.0 cm
Collection of Christian M. Nebehay GmbH, Antiquariat & Kunsthandlung, Vienna

Glasgow Four

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.

Charles Robert ASHBEE (designer)
England 1863–1942
GUILD OF HANDICRAFT, London (manufacturer)
England 1888–1908
Standing cup and cover 1901
silver, turquoise
(a-b) 16.7 x 11.6 cm diameter (overall)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2006 (2006.485.a-b)

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.

Beyond Europe

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.

Home-grown influences

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.

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria