VIENNA AS A CULTURAL METROPOLIS IN THE AGE
OF EMPEROR FRANZ JOSEPH*

Even though the imperial city has been a favourite research topic and inexhaustible training ground for cultural historians for forty years, this now globally fashionable curiosity has been rather selective, revolving around a handful of leitmotifs and approaching the same favourite themes over and over again. The book to which this article is a modified Foreword attempts to offer a new perspective on this activity, and does so with reference to the work of one of the most influential art critics of Vienna in the age of Emperor Franz Joseph.

Vienna is one of the fortunate European cities to have enjoyed a number of golden ages in the course of its thousand-year history; these include those of the Baroque, Biedermeier, Historicism, and Art Nouveau/Secession. They each represent a cultural period that left an indelible imprint on the face of the imperial city; not only do they remain an integral part of it physically, in its architecture, urban structure, and permanently flourishing institutions, but they continue to serve as pillars of its identity and collective memory.

Halcyon days tend to be re-evaluated—overestimated and underestimated by turns—by the historical recollection of consecutive generations, but they never disappear. They are linked to many emblematic buildings and establishments (for example, the Musikverein), and the continued care lavished on them forms an inalienable part of the city’s culture. Apart from making Vienna an attractive destination, they also make a vital contribution to the city’s quality of life. A flourishing cultural tourism in turn steadily raises living standards. This Viennese cultural identity or ‘identity construct’, to use a term fashionable among historians nowadays, began to be forged gradually after the Second World War, but did not truly take off until the 1960s. The collapse of the Monarchy and the subsequent interbellum years, rife with economic and political crises and culminating in the Anschluss, had hardly been conducive to building a positive Austrian identity. The first two decades after the Second World War were spent rebuilding the country while steering clear of conflict. As a result, many Austrians searching for the true roots of their identity reached back several generations, rather than looking to the age of their fathers and grandfathers.

Book  cover  with  Rudolf  Alt’s  Stephansdom  from  the Graben (1872)

* This is an edited and revised version of the Foreword to the book Bécs művészeti élete Ferenc József korában, ahogy Hevesi Lajos látta (The Artistic Life of Vienna in the Age of Emperor Franz Joseph, through the Eyes of Ludwig Hevesi) (Budapest: Balassi Kiadó, 2019).

Indeed, not until the 1970s did the city’s intellectual and political elite begin to reap the full benefits of their vast cultural legacy, one of great significance not just for Europe but for the whole world. The number of pre- eminent works  of art  and intellectual      masterpieces that came into being here render the Austrian capital a particularly precious part of world heritage.

The fervent local patriotism of the Viennese—nurtured, as historians have shown, since medieval times—has always provided evidence of their physical, intellectual, and emotional attachment to the city, but the intellectual depths of this love have only been truly explored in recent decades, owing to the current trend of researching historical memory and remembrance.

Originating in the Anglo-American academic world, the so-called cultural turn took the field of historiography by storm across Western and Central Europe in the 1970s, and accorded a leading role to Vienna. Like most European metropolises and cultural centres of regional importance, the imperial city on the Danube had attracted artists from far and wide for centuries, offering distinguished creative minds an often lucrative or modest opportunity to reveal their talents. In turn, these artists contributed invaluably to the imperial image, while to some extent making high culture also accessible to the less wealthy residents of Vienna. Few cities in the world can claim to have had a golden age almost without a hiatus for the past three hundred years, and to have served all this time as a bastion of the arts and, first and foremost, of a ‘culture of the senses’.

From the early 1700s, the beginning of the mature Baroque period, the arts, theatre, and music were the focus of public attention. The artists residing in the capital enjoyed such favourable opportunities for self-expression that they created exemplary masterpieces that remained the model to emulate for decades, even centuries. The support of the Habsburg imperial court, along with the knowledgeable and benevolent patronage of the aristocracy and later the bourgeoisie, established an inspiring environment in which creative imagination was free to soar.

The intimidatingly vast body of studies and books published on cultural history in the last decades attempts to identify and describe the driving force behind this three-hundred-year-old process, bringing new angles of vision and methods to investigating and interpreting its most prominent artistic achievements.

While the cultures of the Baroque or Biedermeier periods have remained confined to a narrower field of professional inquiry and elicited a far more modest response from the public at large, the two decades either side 1900—also known as the Fin de siècle or the Art Nouveau/Secessionist era—led to Vienna becoming a major source of fascination, far beyond the interest of historians, cultural or otherwise. From the mid-1980s, the city gained an international reputation as a fertile field for discussion, first in the highest intellectual circles, and then in popular culture as well. All this was spurred by clever marketing, such as turning The Kiss, Gustav Klimt’s key work from his golden period, into a contemporary icon.

The exhibition Traum und Wirklichtkeit at the Künstlerhaus in Vienna struck the resonant note in 1985 and was soon followed by a string of exhibitions hosted by the majority of large, affluent cities across Europe, America, and even the Far East, thematizing Viennese Secession and the age of Freud. No one today can pretend to practice erudition and cultural sophistication without being familiar with Freud, Klimt, Kokoschka, or Schiele, all of whom lived and worked in Vienna on the eve of the First World War.

The raging cult of turn-of-the-century Vienna among cultural historians and art historians inevitably meant that the achievements of the Gründerzeit, the immediately preceding golden period of Historicism, became undervalued and under-represented in several ways. However Professor Carl E. Schorske—the pioneer of trend-setting Anglo-American cultural studies, whose book played a seminal role in establishing the vogue of Vienna in academia1—spoke very highly of the artistic (especially architectural) achievements of the Ringstrasse era in the second half of the nineteenth century in a series of fascinatingly erudite essays that remain quite influential today. The scholars who followed him, however, adopted a rather different stance.

Partly as a result of the juxtaposition of generations and mentalities proposed by Schorske, subsequent authors placed the emphasis on the achievements of the Fin de siècle as an exclusive vehicle for modernizing, and increasingly began to view negatively the ideals, mindset, and intellectual ethos of Historicism, the ‘generation of the fathers’; or in other words, always from the perspective of the subsequent generation rebelling against it. The rebellion of Freud, Klimt, and even more radical contemporary writers and publicists, such as Adolf Loos and Karl Kraus, denied the achievements of the preceding generation, consequently their perception became increasingly critical and unsubtle. While somewhat earlier university students in the late 1960s had marched on the streets of Vienna to save the buildings of the Ringstrasse and the honour of Historicism, the taste for that period of art proved ephemeral; the modernists became the dominant heroes, being the harbingers of twentieth-century modernism.

Nevertheless an impressive series of monographs offering a complex synthesis of basic research into the Ringstrasse era2 paved the way for exhibitions and a flurry of relevant publications, as well as a couple of historical retrospectives (The Age of Franz Joseph I–II)3 which also promoted a more favourable reception of the period of Historicism. In spite of these endeavours, only the artistically outstanding monumental public buildings were really appreciated. Likewise there was only lukewarm appreciation of Emperor Franz Joseph himself. Yet it was his political decision to expand the city by tearing down the walls around it and to launch the urgent modernization and urbanization of the imperial capital, helping to bring on the golden age of the Gründerzeit.4

Recent studies commonly divide the cultural history of nineteenth-century Vienna into smaller sub-periods, dating the beginnings of the Gründerzeit to the 1850s, and those of the Fin de siècle to the 1890s. The latter is traditionally defined as having ended in 1918. The first forty years have themselves at least three different inner caesuras. Even the fully researched Viennese modernity presents us with the problem of amalgamating two generations of entirely divergent views and habits, thus blurring the line between Secessionism and Expressionism, at least as far as the fine arts were concerned. The war years then created an entirely new situation socially, politically, and in terms of bleak human destinies. Those years, especially after 1916, are not associated directly with the Age of Franz Joseph, but are obviously  viewed in that context by political historians.

The consequence of these attitudes is that ‘cultural heroes’ of the Gründerzeit and the Fin de siècle are nowadays often presented in a confrontational light. Indeed, some go as far as to attribute diametrically opposed world views to these generations. Yet the reality is much more complex than that. For instance, one of the doyens of  modern  architecture, Otto Wagner, straddles this artificial gulf with ease, if only by virtue of his long career as someone who was already playing an important (albeit not yet leading) role in Historicism.  No  wonder that his early work is usually glossed over in overviews of the Gründerzeit.5 Most of the artists working in the modern spirit were born in the 1860s or later. In the 1890s, they

Photograph of Lajos Hevesi (Ludwig von Hevesi) by Josef Lőwy, 1904

applied themselves with youthful verve and eagerness to modernizing the world around them, including their home town, Vienna, with which they had a passionate love-hate relationship. Actually their ‘fathers’ were also modernizers: they were an optimistic, positivist generation, believing in progress and an ever improving future. However the younger generation in Vienna became the pessimists, whose belief in progress and in the natural goodness of man had been shaken.

Since synthetic works of cultural history and monographs focusing on the pinnacles of the intellectual and artistic canon have dealt with the past along

Hans Makart, Venice Pays Homage to Catherina Cornaro, detail, 1872–73, Belvedere, Vienna

the aforementioned chronological lines of demarcation, they have inevitably tended to ignore or underrate certain crucial public figures who could not be pigeonholed in the category of genius. By virtue of their political, economic, or medial positions, these grey eminences were clearly instrumental in ushering in a succession of new phases in Viennese culture sometimes even for forty years or so. Their support made a positive contribution to the prevailing cultural environment across several periods, assisting the growth and development of artistic talent and various stylistic schools.6

While the paradigm shift of the past two decades in art history has moved the focus of inquiry to other phenomena, including art patronage and sponsors, the work of various significant art critics, previously recognized (by their contemporaries) as influential, remains largely uncharted. By way of exception, Karl Kraus and Hermann Bahr have been saved from oblivion by their achievements in literature. They were both members of the new generation with a decided grudge against Historicism.

The explanation for the odd and rigid chronological divide lies in the fact that the ‘revolt’ of the 1890s in the name of modernity coincided with the appearance of a new and young generation in literature, music, and the fine arts. Nevertheless, in reality, there were a number of other important figures beside Otto Wagner who bridged that divide and one of the most fascinating characters among them was the Hungarian-born journalist and critic Ludwig Hevesi (Lajos Hevesi).

Art historians seldom devote monographs to critics unless the subject happens also to be a famous poet or writer, such as Charles Baudelaire or Émile Zola, or alternatively an authority in cultural politics, such as the English aesthetician and political utopian John Ruskin. In our media-ridden age, the time has come to examine the opinion-formers and taste dictators of the second half of the nineteenth century, the first golden age of mass communication. While most of them did not yet go so far as to abuse their media positions, they were clearly aware of their power and did not shrink from harnessing the latter in the interests of advocating the humanist values to which they openly subscribed.

Given that, in many ways, the above-mentioned book is the first to offer a comprehensive, chronological look at Hevesi’s oeuvre, it is hardly surprising that it proceeds by an eclectic method and tends to raise problems rather than to solve them. It is an attempt to sketch the intellectual career of an art critic active in an age when the critic’s trade was not yet fully recognized as a professional occupation. Indeed, in Central Europe, even in Vienna, the fine art segment of the artistic field was far less differentiated and extensive than in Paris or London.

Even though Hevesi’s work as critic spanned all the various branches of culture, considerations of methodology and sheer space confine the subject of this volume to his art criticism alone, leaving his commentary on theatre and literature, as well as his own literary achievements as an author, to a book yet to be written.7 Unfortunately, Hevesi’s original manuscripts and correspondence have been lost.

Lajos Hevesi’s career as critic spanned half a century, encompassing the periods of Historicism, Realism, Fin de siècle Symbolism, Art Nouveau/Secession, and nascent Expressionism. Among the indispensable resources for anyone studying Viennese art are the two volumes in which Hevesi himself culled his daily critical pieces on the emergence of the Secession (Acht Jahre Secession, 1906) and other writings of his which, in 1909, he deemed collectively to be an important record for the recent past (Altkunst–Neukunst. Wien 1894–1908). By contrast, few professionals resort to his synopsis of art in Austria, published in 1903 (Oesterreichische Kunst im 19. Jahrhundert, I–II,) despite the pioneering nature of that work in its genre.

Hevesi’s daily critical reflections, penned during the heyday of Historicism, were never published in a single edition during his lifetime,8 even though they constitute a resource for studying the Gründerzeit no less important than his later works. Many of his contemporary critics in Vienna are yet to be discussed in monograph-length studies, and scholars still owe us a detailed review and assessment of Historicist painting of the kind that is readily available on the Secession. Apart from the excellent works and catalogues on the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair, the oeuvre of Hans Makart, Anton Romako, and monographs of a few other outstanding painters, no attempt has thus far been made to outline a strict chronology of the exhibitions of the Gründerzeit period. It proved necessary to reconstruct in detail the major artistic events, and to analyse the critical reception of the art scene at this time. The initial ground-breaking genre-monographs (for example, the painstakingly thorough and remarkable explorations of the sources of monumental painting and sculpture published by Werner Kitlitschka or Walter Krause twenty years ago), and the first monographs discussing the Ringstrasse architects, have not been followed by new original research in the past two decades. Nevertheless important monographs are in preparation on some of the major painters of the period conducted by the Research Centre of the Belvedere, the Austrian National

Gustav Klimt, Schubert at the Piano, 1899

Gallery. The latest treatises in cultural history (e.g. by Werner Telesko) employ a different, politicized approach, for the most part preferring to examine the previously known or the newly discovered facts in regard to questions of identity.9

One purpose of this book is to revisit Hevesi’s criticism of paintings from 1869 onward. As a young feuilletonist, Hevesi followed Historicism, registering and interpreting its developments at least as meticulously as he observed those at the turn of the century. It is safe to say that, already at this early stage of his career, he served as one of the most reliable chroniclers of the art and exhibition scene in contemporary Vienna. The book attempts to show the events and intellectual impulses that led this devout advocate of the Makart era to lend his support to the youth of the Secession when already a man in the autumn of his years, without ever repudiating the moral and intellectual ideals of his own generation. At the same time, exploring the intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic analogies between the two periods, while simultaneously tracing the internal structural changes in the domain of the fine arts, is just as crucial to the present work as the examination of Hevesi’s achievements as an art critic. We hope to cast the art chronology of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s in a new light, if only because Hevesi’s feuilletons on the curating practices of the Österreichische Kunstverein and the exhibitions

Carl Moll, The Naschmarkt in Vienna, 1894, Belvedere, Vienna

of the Künstlerhaus are bound to enrich our current understanding of the period’s paintings with a different perspective and fresh details. A fascinating result of the research is the discovery of how well connected the Künstlerhaus was in the international (European) art world, and how many important foreign masters were exhibited in Vienna from time to time, bringing new intellectual, spiritual, and stylistic impulses to the local art scene, all long before the turn to modernism. The other revelation is the birth of the modern art market and the new lobbyism of the various art groups before and after 1900.

The well-known chronology of the Secession is discussed here in tandem with responses from the art market, particularly in terms of the specific strategies devised by Hevesi to help his favourite group of artists attain commercial success. Finally, a whole chapter focuses on Hevesi’s pivotal role in establishing the canon of Austrian fine arts, particularly of painting, in the nineteenth century. The artists regarded as outstanding by academics and critics today are precisely those whom Hevesi placed on a pedestal in his day. Longer quotes from some of his critical works have been selected with the aim of illustrating the evolution and ultimate metamorphosis of his views on modernity, an evocation of the way in which he stayed in tune with his age.

More than an influential journalist, Hevesi was instrumental in catapulting into the limelight a new style named Secession or ‘Stilkunst’ in Vienna. Meanwhile, starting from the early 1870s, he never ceased perfecting his professional expertise and enlarging his knowledge base, or teaching the public in Budapest and Vienna how to see, understand, and enjoy a picture, honing their tastes and deepening their erudition in painting, sculpture, and architecture. With his hallmark writing style, which was both intellectually sophisticated and tangibly sensual, he had an inimitable way of casting the visual in words. Those who read him regularly inevitably became exhibition-goers, aficionados of fine painting and sculpture. Hevesi managed to raise a generation of parallel elite audiences in Vienna and Budapest who embraced the autonomy of art and openness to experiments with new forms of expression, while continuing to recognize and respect aesthetic and historic value in bygone period styles.

Before the collapse of the Monarchy, the Hungarian intellectual and social elite understood German almost as a second native tongue. As a result, Hevesi’s reports on exhibitions, from Vienna to Munich and Venice, shaped cultural opinions in Budapest as effectively as in Vienna. It is no exaggeration to say that, for four decades, his work formed a bridge between the two halves of the Monarchy on which thoughts, ideas, and information travelled both ways—even if those who received them on either end never took much notice of the bridge itself.

Translated by Péter Balikó Lengyel

1 Carl E. Schorske, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna. Politics and Culture (New York: Knopf, 1980).

2 Elisabeth Springer, Geschichte und Kulturleben der Wiener Ringstraße (Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner Verlag, 1979).

3  Das Zeitalter Franz Josephs I. Von der Revolution zur Gründerzeit 1848–1880 (Vienna: Schloss Grafenegg, 1984); Das Zeitalter Franz Josephs II. Glanz und Elend 1880–1916 (Vienna: Schloss Grafenegg, 1987).

4 A number of books and albums brought out on the 150th anniversary of the Ringstrasse returned to a positive assessment of the period. Cf. Alfred Fogarassy, ed., Die Wiener Ringstraße – Das Buch (Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2014). The authoritative textbook (Handbuch) on nineteenth-century Austrian art is also meticulously balanced in its value judgements of all styles: Gerbert Frodl, ed., Geschichte der Bildende Kunst in Österreich. 19. Jahrhundert (München–Berlin–London–New York: Prestel Verlag, 2002).

5  The scholarly catalogue to the exhibition curated by the Wien Museum to commemorate the centenary of Wagner’s death is the latest addition to the literature on the architect, and at once the most complex analysis of his work to date. Andreas Nierhaus and Eva-Maria Orosz, eds, Otto Wagner (1841–1918) (Vienna: Wien Museum, 2018).

6 Most of these helpers came from the ranks of the administration, although leading journalists also wielded considerable influence. Waltraud Heindl, Josephinische Mandarine, Bürokratie und Beamte in Österreich. 1848–1914 (Vienna–Cologne–Graz: Böhlau Verlag, 2013).

7 Since the late 1980s, a few anthologies of Hevesi’s literary works, travel sketches, and journalistic pieces have been published from time to time, but his considerable output as a theatre critic remains unexplored.

8  The Balassi Institute did bring out an anthology including lectures delivered at the Hevesi Symposium and thirty-three reprinted feuilletons, but the volume was never released commercially. Ilona Sármány-Parsons and Csaba Szabó, eds, Ludwig Hevesi und seine Zeit (Vienna: Institut für Ungarische Geschichtsforschung in Wien, Balassi Institut–Collegium Hungaricum Wien, 2015).

9 In his two monumental monographs, Werner Telesko traces the history of fine arts during the age of the Habsburg Empire and Franz Joseph from the beginning of the nineteenth century, mostly in terms of the culture of remembrance or lieux de mémoire. The author interprets a vast body of information as he surveys the region’s artistic heritage, here framed in questions regarding ways of construing imperial identity. See Werner Telesko, Geschichtsraum Österreich. Die Habsburger und ihre Geschichte in der bildende Kunst des 19 Jahrhunderts (Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 2006); Werner Telesko, Kulturraum Österreich. Die Identität der Regionen in der bildenden Kunst des 19. Jahrhunderts (Vienna–Cologne–Weimar: Böhlau, 2008).

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