The Vienna Secession was established on 3 April 1897 by Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Max Kurzweil, Josef Engelhart, Ernst Stöhr, Wilhelm List, and other artists. It was a ‘secession’ indeed, a split-off from the Vienna Society of Visual Artists (Künstlerhaus) that had been motivated by a vehement rejection of the latter’s conservatism and notion of art still rooted in Historicism. The Secession’s first exhibition was held in 1898. Pursuing the goal of an artistic renewal and opening, the Secession saw it as one of its priorities to provide insights into modern art production abroad. In this sense, it was considered a forum of the international avant-garde that redefined and repositioned both itself and the country’s art.
Prominent donations the Secession made to the Modern Gallery, which had been founded in 1903 and preceded the Belvedere as an institution, included The Plains of Auvers (1890) by Vincent van Gogh, the bust of Henri de Rochefort-Luçay (1897) by Auguste Rodin, and The Evil Mothers (1894) by Giovanni Segantini; these works marked the beginnings of today’s internationally acclaimed collection of early twentieth-century art. At its heart is the Secession itself, personified by Gustav Klimt, whose masterpiece The Kiss (1908) is regarded as the monumental icon of Viennese Art Nouveau.
In 1905, Gustav Klimt and a group of artists and architects, such as Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, Richard Luksch, Wilhelm Bernatzik, Max Kurzweil, Wilhelm List, Carl Moll, Koloman Moser, and Emil Orlik, left the Secession. The fundamental issue that had been up for discussion was whether the decorative arts should be included in the prevalent concept of art. Klimt and his like-minded colleagues fervently advocated for art and everyday life to merge and form a unity. With its outstanding exhibition events Kunstschau (1908) and Internationale Kunstschau (1909), the Klimt Group offered such young talents as Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Max Oppenheimer, and many others a future-oriented platform.
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