Location: Upper Belvedere
The exhibition Shaping Landscapes - Hölzel, Mediz, Moll amongst others is the first within the Belvedere’s series Masterpieces in Focus to not deal with the œuvre of an individual artist figuring in the collection, but to instead address an artistic phenomenon – one that exemplarily marks the threshold to the decorative two-dimensionality of Art Nouveau in late nineteenth-century landscape painting: the abstraction and formalization of scenic motifs. A growing interest in Japanese art on the one hand and a new perspective of landscape on the other paved the way for this cross-genre tendency, which, around 1900, led to a development that left Impressionism behind and made itself primarily felt in the art of Adolf Hölzel and his friends and students, such as Carl Moll, Karl Mediz, Emilie Mediz-Pelikan, and Theodor von Hörmann. Inspired by his surroundings, Hölzel arrived at a new understanding of landscape from which he drew the consequences of a revised concept of art.
To a Revised Understanding of Art through a New Landscape Approach
In choosing their motifs, the artists focused on ornamental two-dimensionality rather than on the materiality and spatiality of specific landscapes. The forms encountered in the Moor of Dachau near Munich appealed both to painters and photographers and perfectly suited their reorientation. By the end of the nineteenth century, the region had become a widely known hub of plein air painting – primarily thanks to three artists who went down in the annals of art history as the New Painters of Dachau: Adolf Hölzel, Ludwig Dill, and Arthur Langhammer. For Hölzel, painting became a form of investigation into the means of artistic expression. He directed his focus on the elementary structure of compositions, which was far removed from the pictorial mimicry of a realistically painted landscape view. The recurring motif of the tree thus changed from an illusionistic image rendered through tonalities into an ornamental reduction of form brought about through contrasts of light and dark planes. From this, Hölzel drew the consequences of a revised understanding of art, which he committed to paper in 1901 in his treatise On Form and the Distribution of Mass in a Picture, first published in the widely recognized and highly influential periodical of the Vienna Secession, Ver Sacrum. In spite of individual differences in the respective art genres, painting, printmaking, and photography arrived at comparable results in those days, all of which were directed at a common goal: the abandonment of a realistic imitation of a scenic vista in favour of the methodical and conceptual construction of a picture’s composition. The exhibition is the first to demonstrate the central role ornamental form played in landscape painting around 1900. Moreover, it highlights in what ways the Viennese art scene was influenced by the Dachau approach, as well as the responses and impulses consequently emanating primarily from the Vienna Secession. It becomes obvious how the image of a landscape was eventually transformed into a rhythmic alternation of light and dark areas.
Masterpieces in Focus
In line with a museum’s central tasks – the preservation, expansion, and presentation of its collection – the Belvedere has held the exhibition series Masterpieces in Focus since 2009. Twice a year, it highlights specific aspects of Austrian art history, concentrating on thematic focal points, individual artists, or exceptional masterpieces in the collection. The shows, integrated into the permanent collection on view at the Upper Belvedere, focus on the significance of the chosen works in the context of the collection and relate them to the art and culture of their time. The exhibitions are accompanied by a book series that is based on the latest findings of research and which looks at the selected works of art from new perspectives and in the form of multidisciplinary analysis.
The exhibitions held within the series Masterpieces in Focus are realized with the kind support of the Dorotheum.