Secession, Austrian

   Under the leadership of the well-known painter Gustav Klimt, the Society of Plastic Artists of the Austrian Secession (Vereinigung bildender Künstler österreichischer Secession) was founded in 1897. Klimt was joined in the movement by 19 painters and architects who were members of an older artistic organization, the Artists’ Society (Künstlergenossenschaft), connected with the eponymous Künstlerhaus (House of Artists). Their program, inspired by contemporary art movements elsewhere in Europe—the British pre-Raphaelites, French Impressionists, Belgian Naturalists, and German Jugendstil—rejected the historicizing classicism of academic painting as mediocre. Improvement could come only by greater openness to artistic experimentation, both formally and thematically. “To the Age Its Art, to Art Its Freedom” (“Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit”) was the motto emblazoned on a building constructed in 1898 for the Secession’s exhibitions. From 1898 to 1903, their journal, Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), sought to create an international audience for their efforts to save art from the sclerotic grip of its Viennese elder statesmen. The subject of the Secession’s artistic endeavors was to be the true nature of modern man. Their finished paintings, graphic designs, and decorative inventions featured thick floral ornamentation, a heavy use of simple geometric forms often rendered two dimensionally, and what for the time was startlingly frank eroticism. Their agenda had a popular side as well—the common man was just as much in need of aesthetic repair as the rich one—and good art had to be brought into the household. The result of such thinking was the founding of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Atelier) to design furniture, kitchen implements, home accessories, and architectural projects that met this ideal.
   In 1905, a split in the Secession took place, with some of its most important associates such as Klimt, the architect Otto Wagner, and the painter Koloman Moser (1868–1918) deciding to exhibit their works in a show called “Kunstschau Wien” (“Vienna Art Show”), the first of which took place in 1908.
   During the interwar period, other provincial artistic societies in Austria took up the Secession’s challenge to innovation. The Artists’ Guild of the Innviertel and the interdisciplinary MAERZ Group founded in 1913 in Upper Austria and Salzburg kept the ideas of the Secession alive after 1920. The Graz Artists’ Union (Künstlerverband Graz), founded in 1923, promoted Expressionism in Austrian painting. In 1939, the Vienna Secession was merged with the older Künstlerhaus; after 1945, it was reestablished as an independent organization to promote modern art of all kinds.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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