In August 1934, the Austrian illustrated magazine Moderne Welt featured a bright cover of a couple in folk dress, which appeared to stand in full contradiction with the modernity emphasised in its title. Yet the cover perfectly illustrates a shift in modern Austrian culture towards what we might call ‘alpine modernity’. Representing a trend embracing the country’s alpine geography and folk traditions, it had begun to develop in the 1920s but gained special importance during the reactionary Dollfuss-Schuschnigg regime of the 1930s. With its peculiar mix of technological progress and rural life, Austria’s ‘alpine modernity’ reinvented the country as a tourist-friendly, German, Catholic country, whose most remarkable features were ‘cosiness’ (‘Gemütlichkeit‘), natural beauty, and the celebration of folk traditions and religious life. International tourist advertising aside, this image also circulated widely in the national press, and encouraged city dwellers, especially, to venture out and explore their home country. Thus, even though the folkloric naivety of the image appears to represent the very opposite of the modern world proclaimed in the magazine title, the two poles were not as far removed from one another as the cover may initially suggest. Moreover, the cover was designed by Carry Hauser (1895–1985), a painter, stage designer, printmaker, and writer, who was closely involved in efforts to rejuvenate Austrian culture after the First World War. Contextualising the Moderne Welt cover in relation to Hauser’s work as well as the magazine, this Artwork of the Month essay shows that Austrian modern culture maintained strong ties to rural culture throughout the interwar years and promoted it at home just as much as abroad.
Artwork of the Month, July 2022: Head by Vally Wieselthier (1928)
This striking ceramic head, nearly 28 centimetres in height, depicts a young woman wearing a slanted fashionable cap, counter-posed with a green flower in her hair. It was executed by Vally Wieselthier (1895–1945) and is one of many female heads she produced for the Wiener Werkstätte in the late 1920s. Indeed, not only did Wieselthier produce distinctive ceramic heads of this kind; many other artists associated with the Wiener Werkstätte, such as Gudrun Baudisch (1907–1982), Hertha Bucher (1898–1960) and Erna Kopriva (1894–1984) made similar heads. Baudisch, in particular, executed a number that are sometimes difficult to distinguish from those by Wieselthier.
Artwork of the Month, June 2022: Numbered Poem No 18 by Lajos Kassák (1921)
This is the first time a work by Lajos Kassák (1887–1967) features as our Artwork of the Month, but many of our previous articles have mentioned the artist’s name. This is due to Kassák’s uniquely central position in early-twentieth-century Hungarian avant-garde culture. He was not just a visual artist, but also a writer, poet, editor, organiser and thinker. Artists as important and diverse as Sándor Bortnyik (1893–1976), János Mattis-Teutsch (1884–1960), or Lajos Vajda (1908–1941) all belonged to Kassák’s circle before continuing on their separate paths. The significance of Kassák’s periodicals and collaborative projects is so great that they can easily steal the limelight from his individual artistic output. This is how Kassák became a recurring background figure on this blog, and it is high time for him to come into focus.
New Essay by Julia Secklehner on Anna Lesznai and the Crossing of Borders and Period Boundaries
A new essay by Julia Secklehner, ‘Crossing Borders and Period Boundaries in Central European Art: The Work of Anna Lesznai (ca. 1910–1930),’ has been published in the volume Rethinking Period Boundaries: New Approaches to Continuity and Discontinuity in Modern European History and Culture, edited by: Lucian George and Jade McGlynn.
Artwork of the Month, November 2021: Portrait of Ilse by Rudolf Wacker (1926)
Rudolf Wacker (1893–1939) is considered one of the most intriguing painters in Austria during the interwar period. Based in Bregenz in Vorarlberg, the westernmost province of Austria, he strongly oriented himself to the German art world. In his landscapes, portraits and still lifes, he analysed his close surroundings and the local reality in Austria utilizing a razor-sharp realism. As a prisoner of war in Siberia from 1915 to 1920, however, he also experienced ‘exotic’ worlds, which influenced his paintings throughout his whole career, not least in the form of memorabilia and souvenirs. The portrait of his wife Ilse (1926) reveals an important example of this phenomenon in the 1920s.