Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) in Vienna - Part I

Designed by Otto Wagner, with ornaments by Kolo Moser - the Otto Wagner Haus at the Wienzeile

Towards the end of the 19th century, the world of fine arts had a nicely consolidated core of conservative styles that were mostly characterised by their re-cycling of artistic developments from preceding centuries. The reactionary Austrian-Hungarian Empire with its deeply conservative Emperor Franz Joseph I and a cultural spearhead dominated by the Catholic church was heavily stuck in the age of "historicism".

Ornaments on a house designed by Otto Wagner

This is essentially what I mean with "recycling" preceding styles: in architecture, painting and sculpture, there was fairly little news for many years. At this time, France had the most innovative scene in fine arts and it is not chance that almost all progressive artistic stimuli came from France - which itself had an establishment immersed in historicist art.

Aside of impressionism, naturalism and later expressionism which are all not subject to this article, Art Nouveau was one of the most important anti-historicist movement in fine arts of the late 19th and early 20th century. Characteristics are a break with traditional styles, motives taken from youth, nature and foreign cultures, a tendency to light ornaments, a two-dimensional style in painting, asymmetry, and - especially later on - a steady extension of the "object of art" to print, objects of daily use, books, jewellery, architecture, apparel design, furniture and all kinds of other things.

A few words about the Wiener Werkstätte with a rather annoying American accent & some samples of the work.

Art was to be liberated from the canvas. Later one branch of Art Nouveau became particularly floral and commercial - at which point many of the early Art Nouveau artists had already developed further on, to Art Deco, for example, or they had become modern classicists.

Different Art Nouveau Styles in Europe

Art Nouveau had several centres all over Europe. Paris and the rest of France, the Benelux countries, Scotland, Barcelona and several places in Central Europe. These include in particular the three "show case cities" of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire: Prague, Budapest and Vienna. Here Art Nouveau was called "Jugendstil" ("Style of the Youth") or "Secessionsstil".

The Secession Building in Vienna

Since Vienna was the over-all capital, is also had the highest density of conservative nobility. This is certainly part of the reason why it had a hard time getting started properly. However, once a bunch of young artists had split with a lot of Austrian pomp and circumstance, Jugendstil finally kicked in and there are several places where you can follow the traces of this era in Vienna.

Almost all of the major Jugendstil sights of Vienna are covered in separate articles - thus the following list should be read as a set of references and a summary: The best place to start Jugendstil sightseeing is the Secession Building, which was started as a museum for the Jugendstil Artists of Vienna. Just outside, on the Karlsplatz, you can also find the most beautiful pavilions that Otto Wagner designed for the Stadtbahn tram.

Similar ones can be found all along the subway lines U6 and U4. Another particularly remarkable set is by Schloss Schönbrunn Palace, at the station of Hietzing - they were designed for the Emperor and his family, but used on only two occasions. Speaking of Otto Wagner: Don′t miss out on the Majolika House and another Jugendstil house next to it by the Naschmarkt Market.

Continue with "Vienna Jugendstil - Part II"

back to "vienna travel guide"

Sightseeing by Austrian Province

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Further Reading

Top-Attractions & Where to Go in Vienna

English Wikipedia on Jugendstil (short)

An Introduction to the Wiener Moderne / Vienna Modernism

English Wikipedia on the Secession (pretty good)