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Gustav Klimt and Jugendstil

Jugendstil was one of the greatest international phenomena in the history of art and culture, which at the beginning of Modernism was aimed at the renewal of the entrenched, paralyzed art of the time.
Art Nouveau, Modern Style, Stile Liberty, Modernismo and Sezession: "Jugendstil" and its related trends were an international phenomenon, understood as a rejection of the traditional forms of the nineteenth-century "Gründerzeit". A new, fresh, sensual art was to emerge, adhering closely to nature as a model and at the same time able to give visual expression to deep, concealed emotional states. It was to be a kind of art that encompassed all aspects of life, and which strove to create a synthesis, a "Gesamtkunstwerk", of architecture and visual art. Vienna, one of the great metropolises of Europe, represented an important centre of "Jugendstil".

A Modern Approach
Only few cities of Vienna's rank are still shaped to this degree by the last great, unified stylistic movement in the history of art. Everywhere in the city one finds buildings by Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, and Adolf Loos. The Church at Steinhof, the Post Office Savings Bank, and the Secession provide an impression of this "Gesamtkunstwerk" - this total work of art - to which the movement aspired. "Jugendstil" encompasses all forms of architecture and art: industrial facilities, elevated-train systems, villas, churches, as well as the interior design of bars and coffeehouses. As a comprehensive "life-reform movement", it permeated all aspects of day-to-day life, breaking down the borders between high and low art; between free art and arts and crafts. "Jugendstil" thus served as an important impetus for nascent Modernism.

The Vienna Secession
As president of the association of artists known as the Secession, Gustav Klimt was at the very hub of the "Jugendstil" movement. He was not only its - often taciturn - speaker, tireless organizer, and promoter of young, up-and-coming talent; he was also the creator of some of the most important "Jugendstil" works, including the undisputed icon of the entire movement, the world-famous The Kiss, which he painted in the years 1907 and 1908. A distinguishing quality of the Viennese "Jugendstil" is that it was deeply rooted in artistic traditions while at the same time - like the other related movements in Europe - opening itself up to non-European art. Klimt, for his part, was greatly influenced by Asian art and provided the movement with fresh stimulation with his "discovery" of the mosaics of Ravenna. In his paintings, the elements of colour, form, and line free themselves from representational narrative, developing into symbols and abstractions in their own right. Gustav Klimt's work therefore represented an important precursor to the abstract painting of Modernism.

Examples of Jugendstil in Vienna:

Church of St. Leopold at Steinhof
14th district, entrance Baumgartner Höhe 1
Guided tours: Saturday, 3 p.m., and Sunday, 4 p.m.
Viewings: Saturday, 4 to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 12 noon to 4 p.m.

Post Office Savings Bank
1st district, Georg Koch-Platz 2
The main office of the Post Office Savings Bank is open to bank customers and tourists during normal banking hours.

1st district, Friedrichstrasse 12
Opening times: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Good to Know

Klimt Villa in Vienna

Gustav Klimt’s last and only surviving studio, located in Vienna’s Hietzing neighbourhood, offers insights into the artist’s work and life environment. It reopened in the late summer of 2012 after extensive renovation.

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