The Vienna Secessionists

Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University



At the turn of the century, Vienna was a center of radical intellectual vitality, home to Freud, Schoenberg, the architect Adolf Loos, and others. In general, especially in German-speaking countries, young artists complained of the stranglehold the establishment had on exhibitions and policies. In 1897, 19 artists from the Viennese Artists’ Association broke off from the organization, including Austrian painter and illustrator Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), the architects and designers Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956), Olbrich, and Moser. These were the Secessionists.

They celebrated modernity vs. the retreat into revivalism seen in other movements. Nevertheless, they did share notions with Arts and Crafts: that art belongs to all, that the notion of great art vs. minor art needs to be abolished. They designed and erected a geometric building for permanent exhibition space, and they published a periodical. They supported Art Nouveau, and Klimt especially was the preeminent exponent. In 1905 came a further split within the movement: a split between the fine arts people and the applied arts people. The latter, including Klimt, associated art with industry and were dismayed by the increasingly strong trend towards naturalism. Geometrics, functionalism, and a two-dimensional quality were features instead here. In 1939 growing Nazism contributed to the dissolution of the movement.


Works Consulted

Dempsey, Amy. Art in the Modern Era: A Guide to Styles, Schools & Movements. NY: Harry N. Abrams Inc., Pub., 2002.

Gibson, Michael. Symbolism. Taschen. Excerpted in “Gustav Klimt.” The Artchive.

Pioch, Nicolas. “Klimt, Gustav.” WebMuseum, Paris. 2002.