Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Vienna Workshop, III


The pool from which artists for the WW were acquired was for most part the “Kunstgewerbeschule” (School for Applied Arts), which was affiliated with the Austrian Museum for Art and Industry. The museum was founded in 1864 and the school became a part of it in 1867. Thirty years later the school underwent a reform and as a result became one of the most progressive art schools on the continent. The reform was made possible by a member of the board of trustees, Otto Wagner, architect and professor at the Viennese Academy, who believed that ”Kunst im Handwerk” (industrial art) needed to be advanced. Teachers were appointed who were exponents of a modern “constructive principle,” a so-called “Nutzstil” (useful style). A whole generation of teachers had to be replaced by “Secessionists.” Chief principals of these master classes were Kolo Moser, Josef Hoffmann and later Alfred Roller.

Ample talent was available from the influx of different peoples of the monarchy who during their years of study were sent by their teachers to work at the WW. Over time, about 200 artists have made more or less important contributions to the Vienna Workshop – and thus established an important reference for themselves.

While still in school, the students were introduced to the design of ex libris, and the School for Art and Design – today the University for Applied Arts – time and again arranged ex libris competitions. According to an account by Alfred Roller in the ÖEG yearbook (1910) about such a contest, sponsored by Dr. von Brücke, fifteen etched designs were available. Typical for the New Style of that time were submissions from Josef von Diveky (1887–1951) and from Rudolf Kalvach (1883–1932) – who later on frequently created ex libris’ in their artistic paths.

Through the multitude and wide spectrum of artistic functions to which the WW artists dedicated themselves, there remained limited time for bookplates, and none of them can therefore be classified as an ex libris artist. Ex libris attributed to artists from the WW are therefore very scarce.

These ex libris have a unique flair in any ex libris collection. They are different from other bookplates because of their motifs, ornaments and typography. The graphic element predominates, the laminar is in the foreground, and the physical notion is downplayed or completely negated. Figurative depictions prevail in their choices of motifs and are clearly brought into focus. Symbolism and landscapes play a minor part. Ornaments in strict geometric forms, as made by Dita Moser, or the more playful Dagobert Peche designs, are an important feature in ex libris. This is perpetuated in the type, which is succinctly, with great imagination and often dominantly engraved on a bookplate. This led to theoretical considerations, and some artists applied themselves only to the lettering and its theory. The graphics on the bookplates also determine the technique of reproduction which was mostly made into a printing plate or lithographically completed. Traditional gravure techniques were not applied.

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