Tag Archives: Vienna

Joseph Roth: The Collapse of empire

I was reading Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March (1932). A great novel but also another view into this thing called Habsburg Empire. Or the death of it.

Roth writes a world of certainties. Even when fate picked a man up in Tolstoyan grasp to place him in just the right place to save the life of Franz Joseph I at the battle of Solferino (in a war I know nothing of I must confess), it simply lifted him out of the peasant rut and set him on a parallel track under the title and new routines of a Baron. A clean break. A new track. Yet uncomplainingly he continued on to be what his position demanded of him. His relationship with his old peasant father was one of distances greater than miles, silences punctuated by a ritual handful of sentences written in letters.

His son the District Captain is born to and lives on this new track, a life of settled privilege. Just as many silences, preferred by his own son. The Baron is self-contained, unchanging, moving through days of comfortable rituals. I love these descriptions so detailed you can see and smell the glowing gold of their soup.

So lunch was starting. Whenever the music paused, a soft clattering of dishes could be heard from the dining room. It lay three large rooms away from the balcony, at the exact midpoint of the second floor. During the meal, the music resounded, far but clear. Unfortunately, the band did not play every day. It was good and useful; it entwined the solemn ceremony of the luncheon, mild and conciliatory, allowing none of the terse, harsh, embarrassing conversations that the father so often loved to start. One could remain silent, listening and enjoying. The plates had narrow, fading, blue-and-gold stripes. Carl Joseph loved them. He often recalled them throughout the year. They and “The Radetzky March” and the wall portrait of his deceased mother (whom the boy no longer remembered) and the heavy silver ladle and the fish tureen and the scalloped fruit knives and the tiny demitasses and the wee frail spoons as thin as thin silver coins: all these things together meant summer, freedom, home.

A warm golden shimmer hovered in the plates; it was the soup, noodle soup: transparent, with thin, tender, entwined, golden-yellow noodles. Herr von Trotta und Sipolje ate very swiftly, sometimes fiercely. He virtually destroyed one course after another with a noiseless, aristocratic, and rapid malice; he was wiping them out. Fraulein Hirschwitz took small portions at the table, but after a meal she re-ate the entire sequence of food in her room. Carl Joseph fearfully and hastily swallowed hot spoonfuls and huge mouthfuls. In this way, they all finished in tandem. No word was spoken when Herr von Trotta und Sipolje held his tongue. After the soup the Tafelspitz was served, boiled fillet of beef with all the trimmings, the old man’s Sunday entrée for countless years. The delighted contemplation he devoted to this dish took more time than half the meal. The district captain’s eyes caressed first the delicate bacon that silhouetted the colossal chunk of meat, then each small individual plate on which the vegetables were bedded: the glowing violet beets, the lush-green earnest spinach, the bright cheery lettuce, the acrid white of the horseradish, the perfect oval of new potatoes swimming in melting butter and recalling delicate baubles. The baron had a bizarre relationship with food. He ate the most important morsels with his eyes, so to speak; his sense of beauty consumed above all the essence of the food—its soul, as it were; the vapid remainders that then reached mouth and palate were boring and had to be wolfed down without delay. The beauteous appearance of the victuals gave the old man as much pleasure as their simplicity. For he set store by good solid fare, a tribute he paid to both his taste and his conviction; the latter, you see, he called Spartan. With felicitous skill, he thus combined the sating of his desire with the demands of duty. He was a Spartan. But he was also an Austrian.

One of the best descriptions of lunch I have ever read.

I also love this description of language merged with face merged with empire. Only one generation from peasant mind you, even that peasant did save Franz Joseph.

He spoke the nasal Austrian German of higher officials and lesser nobles. It vaguely recalled distant guitars twanging in the night and also the last dainty vibrations of fading bells; it was a soft but also precise language, tender and spiteful at once. It suited the speaker’s thin, bony face, his curved, narrow nose, in which the sonorous, somewhat rueful consonants seemed to be lying. His nose and mouth, when the district captain spoke, were more like wind instruments than facial features. … from the lips, nothing moved in his face. The dark whiskers that Herr von Trotta wore as part of his uniform, as insignia demonstrating his fealty to Franz Joseph I, as proof of his dynastic conviction—these whiskers likewise remained immobile when Herr von Trotta and Sipolje spoke. He sat upright at the table, as if clutching reins in his hard hands. When sitting he appeared to be standing, and when rising he always surprised others with his full ramrod height. He always wore dark blue, summer and winter, Sundays and weekdays: a dark-blue jacket with gray striped trousers that lay snug on his long legs and were tautened by straps over the smooth boots. Between the second and third course, he would usually get up in order to “stretch my legs.” But it seemed more as if he wanted to show the rest of the household how to rise, stand, and walk without relinquishing immobility.

Immobility and silence. It seems to be all they have. That and barracks and symbols. They make Slavic highways move around them.

THE BARRACKS LAY in the northern part of town. It closed off the broad well-kept highway, which started a new life behind the red brick construction, where it led far into the blue countryside. The barracks looked as if it had been thrust into the Slavic province by the Imperial and Royal Army as an emblem of the Hapsburg might. The ancient highway itself, which had become so broad and roomy after centuries of migrating Slavic generations, was blocked by the barracks. The highway had to yield. It looped around the barracks. If on a clear day you stood at the extreme northern edge of town at the end of the highway, where the houses grew smaller and smaller, finally becoming peasant huts, you could spy, in the distance, the broad, arched, black-and-yellow entrance to the barracks, a gate brandished like a mighty Hapsburg shield against the town: a threat, a protection, and both at once. The regiment was stationed in Moravia. But its troops were not Czechs, as might be expected; they were Ukrainians and Rumanians.

So this is part, somehow, of what is holding this Habsburg empire together. These immobilities framed within wild frontiers. A strange, stilted, graceful and hierarchical isolation. Human beings moving like wind-up dolls through an endless procession of similar days. I have trouble imagining such a world, I wonder how visible it was even from where Joseph Roth was writing. Because of course, he was writing from a time when everything had changed. So much you could look back with some longing on this embalmed order of loved and loyal servants, distant poverty and sunday afternoons that in some ways is covered in the same shimmer of gold as Herr von Trotta and Sipolje’s soup.

BACK THEN, BEFORE the Great War, when the incidents reported on these pages took place, it was not yet a matter of indifference whether a person lived or died. If a life was snuffed out from the host of the living, another life did not instantly replace it and make people forget the deceased. Instead, a gap remained where he had been, and both the near and distant witnesses of his demise fell silent whenever they saw this gap. If a fire devoured a house in a row of houses in a street, the charred site remained empty for a long time. For the bricklayers worked slowly and leisurely, and when the closest neighbors as well as casual passersby looked at the empty lot, they remembered the shape and the walls of the vanished house. That was how things were back then. Anything that grew took its time growing, and anything that perished took a long time to be forgotten. But everything that had once existed left its traces, and people lived on memories just as they now live on the ability to forget quickly and emphatically.

This perhaps, more than anything, explains nostalgia. What better way to revolt against mass murder and the speed of your own time.

Yet the empire could not hold. Carl Joseph, the grandson of the hero of Solferino cannot sit a horse much less live up to his name. He has unhappy affairs. He dreams of the peasants of Sipolje. He banishes himself to alcoholism along the borders, amongst those who know they are all already finished. The empire is crumbling, he is in himself proof. He finds his way to disgrace, and his father the District Captain moves all the mountains of bureaucracy to reach Franz Joseph and save their name. Yet the victory feels dreamlike, the ruin of the man, like the empire, remains stark in the face of it.

The district captain shifted closer to the table and asked, “And why—if you’ll forgive me—would it be just as superfluous serving the Fatherland as making gold?”

“Because the Fatherland no longer exists.”

“I don’t understand!” said Herr von Trotta.

“I assumed you wouldn’t understand,” said Chojnicki. “We are all no longer alive!”

It was very still. The final glint of twilight had long since vanished. Through the narrow gaps of the green blinds they could have seen a few stars in the sky. The broad and blaring chant of the frogs had been replaced by the quiet metallic chant of the nightly field crickets. From time to time they heard the harsh cry of the cuckoo. The district captain, put in an unfamiliar, almost enchanted state by the alcohol, the bizarre surroundings, and the count’s unusual words, stole a glance at his son, merely to see a close and familiar person. But Carl Joseph too seemed neither close nor familiar to him. Perhaps Chojnicki was correct and they all really no longer existed: not the Fatherland nor the district captain nor his son! Straining greatly, Herr von Trotta managed to ask, “I don’t understand. How can you say the monarchy no longer exists?”

“Naturally!” replied Chojnicki. “In literal terms, it still exists. We still have an army”—the count pointed at the lieutenant—”and officials”—the count pointed at the district captain—”but the monarchy is disintegrating while still alive; it is doomed! An old man, with one foot in the grave, endangered whenever his nose runs, keeps the old throne through the sheer miracle that he can still sit on it. How much longer, how much longer? This era no longer wants us! This era wants to create independent nation-states! People no longer believe in God. The new religion is nationalism. Nations no longer go to church. They go to national associations. Monarchy, our monarchy, is founded on piety, on the faith that God chose the Hapsburgs to rule over so and so many Christian nations. Our Kaiser is a secular brother of the Pope, he is His Imperial and Royal Apostolic Majesty; no other is as apostolic, no other majesty in Europe is as dependent on the grace of God and on the faith of the nations in the grace of God. The German Kaiser still rules even when God abandons him; perhaps by the grace of the nation. The Emperor of Austria-Hungary must not be abandoned by God. But God has abandoned him!”

This book is beguilingly beautiful. I can do no justice to it.

The sky was very close; a good familiar shell made of a familiar blue glass, it lay within reach, over the earth. Earthly hands had pinned the stars into the nearby sky like tiny flags into a map. At times the entire blue night whirled around the district captain, rocking softly and then standing still. The frogs croaked in the unending swamps. The air smelled of rain and grass. The horses were ghostly white in front of the black carriage, and over them loomed the coachman in a black overcoat. The horses whinnied, and as soft as cat paws their hoofs scratched the damp, sandy ground.

Yes indeed, the district captain had been cheerful and exuberant when he had ridden into an adventuresome region and to his dear son. Now he was returning home, alone, from a lonesome son and from this borderland, where the collapse of the world could already be seen as clearly as one sees a thunderstorm on the edge of a city, whose streets lie still unaware and blissful under a blue sky. The doorman’s cheery bell was already ringing. The locomotive was already whistling. The wet steam of the train was already banging against the restaurant windows in fine gray beads. The meal was already over, and they all stood up. The whole battalion escorted Herr von Trotta to the platform. Herr von Trotta wanted to say something special, but nothing suitable occurred to him. He glanced tenderly at his son. But then he instantly feared that someone would notice that glance, and he lowered his eyes. He shook Major Zoglauer’s hand. He thanked Chojnicki. He tipped his dignified gray silk hat, which he always wore when traveling. He held the hat in his left hand and threw his right arm around Carl Joseph’s back. He kissed his son on both cheeks. And always he wanted to say, Don’t cause me any grief, I love you, my son! All he said was, “Stay well!”

These are the deeper silences, the things that once could not be said.

This conversation sums it up perhaps, from the District Captain’s only friend, who can see further. Who knows old ways are done and the future being built though he doesn’t understand it.

“Things were different back then,” Skowronnek replied. “Now not even the Kaiser bears responsibility for his monarchy. Why, it even looks as if God Himself no longer wishes to bear responsibility for the world. It was easier in those days! Everything was so secure. Every stone lay in its place. The streets of life were well-paved. Secure roofs rested on the walls of the houses. But today, Herr District Captain, the stones on the street lie askew and confused and in dangerous heaps, and the roofs have holes, and the rain falls into the houses, and everyone has to know on his own which street he is taking and what kind of house he is moving into. When your late father said you would become a public official rather than a farmer, he was right. You have become a model official. But when you told your son he had to be a soldier, you were wrong. He is not a model soldier.”

“Yes, yes!” confirmed Herr von Trotta.

“And that’s why we should let everyone do as he wishes, each on his own path. When my children refuse to obey me, all I do is try not to lose my dignity. That is all one can do. I sometimes look at them when they’re asleep. Their faces then look very alien to me, almost unrecognizable, and I see that they are strangers, from a time that is yet to come and that I will not live to see.

Everything was changing, communication and old order broken down, generations split asunder to become strangers. This theme of love alongside utter incomprehension between old and new runs throughout.

Jelacich, a Slovene, hit the ceiling. He hated the Hungarians as much as he despised the Serbs. He loved the monarchy. He was a patriot. And there he stood, love of Fatherland in his helplessly outspread hands, like a flag you have to plant somewhere but can’t find a roof for…But he loved his sons…He shut his eyes when he saw them reading suspicious newspapers, and he closed his ears when he heard them making suspicious remarks. He was intelligent and he knew that he stood powerless between his forebears and his offspring, who were destined to become the ancestors of a brand-new race. They had his features, his hair color, and his eyes, but their hearts beat to a new rhythm, their heads gave birth to strange thoughts, their throats sang new and strange songs that he had never heard. And though he was only forty, the rittmaster felt like an old man, and his sons seemed liked incomprehensible great-grandchildren.

The war comes, and the old is washed away, though this scene of its coming seems quintessentially traditional:

Peasants in short odorous sheepskins, Jews in fluttering black-and-green gaberdines, Swabian farmers from the German colonies wearing green loden coats, Polish burghers, merchants, craftsmen, and government officials surrounded the customs officer’s booth. On each of the four bare walls a huge poster was pasted, each in a different tongue and starting with the Kaiser’s salutation: TO MY PEOPLES! Those who were literate read the text aloud. Their voices mingled with the booming chant of the bells. Some onlookers went from wall to wall, reading the text in each language. Whenever one bell died out, another instantly started booming. Throngs poured from the little town, surging into the broad street that led to the railroad station. Trotta walked toward them into town.

It is the end. Mass slaughter. The end of empires and the birth of new nations. nothing will be the same. The only possible, improbable way to life becomes an existential refusal of what one should be for what one is. This muted demand for personal integrity that Carl Joseph seems to find at the end. That alongside the bubbling up of ethnic identities, nationalisms, dreams of freedom. This is a novel of why things had to change, yet still such a novel of loss in a tangle of emotions almost entirely unspoken.

A timely thing to read, as we face another kind of collapse. Yet I feel perhaps this one will be reversed. Our always-accelerating lives slowed down if we survive at all, but likely lacking in grace. And Strauss.

A good thing to read in Vienna, where Roth lived some time. For a while in this building below.

Camillo Sitte: The Art of Building Cities

Camillo Sitte - PlazasCamillo Sitte’s The Art of Building Cities is one of the acknowledged cornerstones of the whole edifice of books I really love about architecture and public space. This translation is from 1945, but the book itself was originally published in Vienna in 1889. Fin de siecle Vienna in the middle of its drive towards modernity, this is a curiously ambivalent book that looks to the past in order to reimagine an urban future. But it does try to look forward, and though not everyone reads it that way, this is from  Eliel Saarinen prefatory note:

Simultaneously with this understanding of such organic town pattern, and subsequently to a great extent as a logical consequence of it … there became laid an equally strong groundwork for such an understanding of architecture that even the architectural style-form must express contemporary conditions, and no other conditions. (iii)

This is essentially a look at what works about older cities, and it connects patterns in architecture and planning with patterns of social life. So it has half the equation I think is needed. The other half is how architecture and planning in turn shapes social life in the dialectic that Henri Lefebvre would explore among others. Sitte argues that the changes in the city reflect the changes in social life —  in medieval times much of life led on the street, because interiors cold, damp, uncomfortable. From the introduction by Ralph Walker:

The growing number of comforts within the modern shelter had, one by one, eliminated the desire for pageantry in the space outside. The underlying idea of the forum and the plaza, through out the ages the focal points of classical and medieval cities, took on less social and political meaning. (vii)

camillo-sitteBut on to Camillo Sitte himself. In the introduction he quotes Artistotle’s summary: ‘A city should be built to give its inhabitants security and happiness.’ Sitte continues

The science of the technician will not suffice to accomplish this. We need, in addition, the talent of the artist. (1)

From his words you would know the world has already entered the time of professional planners, architects, what Sitte calls hygienists. He doesn’t argue that they are not needed, but rather that they need to rethink their approach and incorporate, as he says, the artist.

Perhaps this study will permit us to find the means of satisfying the three principal requirements of practical city building: to rid the modern systems of blocks and regularly aligned houses; to save as much as possible of that which remains from ancient cities; and in our creation to approach more closely the ideal of the ancient models. (2)

Difference between then and now, I wish, as I say he had thought through more of the corollary.

Public squares, or plazas, were then of prime necessity, for they were theaters for the principal scenes of public life, which today take place in closed halls. (2)

But I like playing with this very different understanding of space that he sees existing in past and present:

In brief, the place of the forum in cities corresponds to that of the principal room of a house. It is to the city, so to speak, the principal hall… (5)

This is just lovely.

The interior temples and monuments are the stone myths of the greek people. The highest poetry and thought are embodied in them. (7)

The bulk of the book, however, focuses on the details of public spaces, groupings of building and streets that work. In many ways the chapter headings summarise very nicely Sitte’s arguments.

I: The relationship Between Buildings, Monuments and Public Squares

This highlights again the importance of the public square in community life, and contrasts the squares that work well from the past with those that don’t from his present:

The fundamental difference between the procedures of former times and those of today rests in the fact that we constantly seek the largest space for each little statue. Thus we diminish the effect … instead of augmenting it … (11-12)

II: Open Centers of Public Places

This explores the many examples of monuments and fountains that sit not at the centre of the square, or in way of its foot traffic, but off to one side. This also applies  to churches — which I confess I find quite odd as I am so used to them sitting in open space in the US and UK. Like Gordon Cullen, though not nearly as explicitly, he is always thinking how people move through space, how they encounter buildings and the public places that surround them. He looks at both stone and emptiness and the way one relates to the other.

Buildings built in this way ‘acquire a double worth’. even without being surrounding by a void they offer up different views and compositions. (18)

Being written in 1889, this already feels as though it is part of the past, but this is the period when our present is forming — this critique is all too familiar:

This rage for isolating everything is truly a modern sickness. R. Baumeister in his manual on city building even raises this to the status of a working principle. He writes, ‘Old buildings ought to be preserved, but we must, so to speak, peel them and preserve them.” The object of this, then, is that by the transformation of surroundings the old buildings should be led to the midst of public places and in the axes of streets. This procedure is used everywhere and with special satisfaction in treating ancient city portals. it is indeed a fine thing to have an isolated city gateway around which we may stroll instead of passing under its arches! (19)

Peel them and preserve them — no better way to describe what has been done to too much architecture that should instead be living and peacefully subsiding.

III: The Enclosed Character of the Public Square

Such a simple rule, one so ignored so often in modern building.

‘The old plazas produce a collective harmonious effect because they are uniformly enclosed…In fact, the public square owes its name to this characteristic in an expanse at the center if a city. (20)

He looks at how it is enclosed, how street enter into it:

Careful study shows that there are many advantages to an arrangement of street openings in the form of turbine arms. (21)

It looks clear in the drawing, I think of the great wonderful squares of Prague or Krakow and agree with him on avoiding busy cross sections at each corner.

IV: The Form and Expanse of Public Squares

He looks at two forms of square — those that are deep and those wide. They set off different building types, deep plazas are better facing a church of slender form, city halls require broader, more expansive ones.

… The height of the principal building, measured from the ground to the cornice, should be in proportion to the dimension of the public square measured perpendicularly in the direction of the principal facade. (27)

I love this, can’t wait to wander some of the cities he describes in this way:

It is truly a delight for the sensitive observer to analyze such a plan and to find the explanation for its wonderful effect, Like all true works of art it continually reveals new beauties and further reason for admiring the methods and resourcefulness of the ancient city builders. (26)

V: The Irregularity of Ancient Public Squares

The opposite to today’s grids, but Sitte hardly needs to point that out, nor that this is due to their gradual historical development, but this is an important point:

Everyone knows from personal experience that these disruptions in symmetry are not unsightly. On the contrary, they arouse our interest as much as they appear natural, and preserve a picturesque character. Few people, however, understand why irregularity can avoid giving an unpleasant appearance. We must study a map to understand it. (30)

Always we turn to Italy — Padua, Verona, Florence, Palermo. To give you a taste of the many maps that fill the book:

sitte-piazzas

VI: Groups of Public Squares

The groupings of squares! To an American this is a wonderful extravagance indeed, also wonderful to move from one enclosed, irregular square to another as my European wanderings can attest.

On Venice:

There is such an expanse of beauty here that no painter has ever conceived an architectural background more perfect than its setting. No theater ever created a more sublime tableau than the spectacle to be enjoyed at Venice. It is truly the seat of a great power, a power of spirit, of art, and of industry which has gathered the treasures of the world upon its vessels… (37)

VII: Arrangement of Public Squares in Northern Europe

The difference he notes, which I had noted already, was that in Northern Europe churches tend to sit more separately — usually because they have been surrounded by graveyards. (Where was everyone buried in this Italian cities of stone I wonder?) Yet these small churches that form the fabric of the city or town are still generally not fully centered in a square, rather they often set to one side.  There is, however, often a large plaza in front to set off the facade. Still, they are approached in various ways that creates interest, surprise, wonder.

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Sitte doesn’t simply look to the ancient, he likes too the Baroque arrangement of squares, the way that

… art came to control vistas of the great three-sided plazas, churches, palaces, formal gardens, sumptuous approaches to important buildings, as well as nature’s masterpieces. (50)

This would include the Plaza of the Palazzo Pitti at Florence, that of the Capitol at Rome. Thus:

The development of Baroque style differs from the history of earlier styles in that it did not evolve gradually. On the contrary, like modern styles, it came full panoplied from the drawing board as an invention. We cannot, therefore, attribute the banality of modern planning to the fact that it has precisely the same kind of origin. We insist, simply, that the straight line and geometrical patterns should not be made the aims of our planning. (51)

The Baroque is the idea of a theatre-type perspective…he gives the example of Würzburg Residence:

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He writes:

Every modern university or group of public buildings laid out around large and small open spaces generally follows some variant of the Würzburg Residence plan — a large court or yard at the center with smaller courts at either side. (51)

Looking at the picture I though god damn, it’s so true.

VIII: The Artless and Prosaic Character of Modern City Planning

Ha.

Open space that should serve everyone actually belongs to the engineer and hygienist. All of the art forms in town building have disappeared one by one so that we have scarcely a memory of them left. (53)

IX: Modern Systems

Ah, the grid. He writes here at the beginning of the grid. It’s funny looking back, that actually it got much worse than the grid, comparing New York for example, to the suburbs.

These systems accomplish nothing except a standardization of street patterns. They are purely mechanical in conception. They reduce the street system to a mere traffic utility, never serving the purposes of art. They make no appeal to the sense of perception, for we can see their features only on a map. (59)

He looks at street patterns and traffic — traffic! Ah, 1889, this was just the beginning, but this kind of diagram is also very familiar.

fig82-83

X: Modern Limitations on Art in City Planning

What I like most is that actually this is not just a nostalgic looking backwards, though I wouldn’t fault that too much given the delight that these old city spaces bring and the importance of thinking through just why. Sitte writes:

Many of the old structural forms are simply out of the question for modern builders. While that may disturb the sentimental, it should not plunge them into a sterile nostalgia. Decorative construction without vital function is but temporary and of questionable value. Time makes inexorable changes in community life, and these changes alter the original significance of architectural forms. (69)

But now more and more, we see how architectural forms result from community life…

Great population increases in our modern capitals, more than anything else, have shattered the old forms. With the growth of a city its streets widen and its buildings grow taller and bulkier.

Written before the first skyscraper mind.

Intense human concentration has meant intense increase in land value, and neither the individual nor the city government can escape the consequences. Subdivision and street opening have proceeded apace, Street after street has been cut through old districts, giving birth to more and more city blocks. (69)

This economic understanding of development was unexpected, I’m not sure why though. Still, it is almost uncanny to see the way that Sitte foresaw the architectural and planning future.

High land costs encourage greater intensity of land use, and this, in turn, supports certain structural forms. Modern lot plotting tends to exalt the cube motif in architecture. (70)

XI: Improved Modern Systems

So looking to his future, our present which is one Sitte did his best to prevent and I appreciate that, he writes:

Our study has already indicated the obvious need for innovations to overcome the effects of the ill-famed rectangular system. (74)

I’m almost glad he didn’t know there would be worse. He didn’t see bureaucratic and state planning as the answer — though private planning wasn’t the answer either.

Personal ambition, artistic individuality, and enthusiasm for work of one’s own responsibility are factors that do not fit into public administration. In fact, they are incompatible with official discipline. (82)

Sitte foresaw the great wind corridors of our modern times as well:

While it is possible for a pedestrian to stroll without discomfort in the old inner city, he is immediately enveloped in clouds of dust when he steps into a modern part of the City. Open plazas, where street openings draw in wind from every direction (like the new City Hall Plaza of Vienna) feature beautiful wind spirals throughout the year… (87)

I haven’t yet been to Budapest and Vienna, but Sitte upholds the first, describing Budapest:

where stand the finest and most greatly admired urban areas along the Danube, where the river is made a magnificent feature of the City itself. Sooner or later, the Danube can have an equally fine effect on Vienna. … Should, then, a gradual slum development be permitted in the meantime? Should not the senseless and immensely costly rectangular system be abandoned? (85)

He really hates rectangles.

XII: Artistic Principles in City Planning — An Illustration

Again Vienna, always back to Vienna, it was his city after all. But there is much to think on for all cities.

More on building social spaces…

and even more…

 

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The Memory Factory: Women Artists in Vienna

The Memory FactoryJulie Johnson’s book The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900 is wonderful. She writes:

The Memory Factory, refers to Vienna as a site for fabricating history. Vienna was indeed a place where intellectuals and artists ‘thought with history,’ and participated in providing their own historical narratives (P 3, quoting Schorske 1998).

I’m working on writing something on Vienna, and everything written about fin-de-siecle Vienna is about men. Men, men, more famous men. There are some mentions of the women who stand by them but mostly those who betray them. God, that Alma Mahler. There is a sprinkling of mothers. It wouldn’t be surprising if women couldn’t flourish in the arts in such a climate of misogyny as Johnson details on these pages (and that is detailed on many another page, believe you me).

But they did. A splendid few, their work is amazing. This is a book that looks both in depth at their work, its connections to a wider modernist movement and to the art of Vienna of the period, an art book. But it also looks at how these women have been removed from the canon, removed from accounts of Vienna, removed from galleries, and erased from our understanding of the past. She quotes Trouillot’s work on the erasures of the Haitian Revolution, which is one of the books I love most. That is about erasure of resistance to Empire and white supremacy. There is a whole field of work on the erasure of women I did not yet know. There is Joan W. Scott, who

believes all history writing depends upon identification — a selective delving into the past–in a process that uses fantasy to create coherence out of chaos. The repetitions or ‘echoes,’ of history are part of this process: there are inevitable distortions that occur over time and over the generations, but identification is required for these repetitions to take place. This is as true for the established canon as it is for new research on women artists. (4)

These repetitions are key in building understandings of history. The amount of work on certain artists and pieces adds to their aura and position, which can become so exaggerated that others are erased. The Memory Factory.

Such examples from the discipline of art history support the proposal of some historians that memory is by definition repetition. (4)

There opens a memory gap where women’s participation slowly becomes invisible — how else to explain the false understanding that women did not exhibit art publicly in fin-de-siecle Vienna when arguably they were more prominent then than they often are now? That astonishes me, actually. This is not a project rescuing competent artists who were never enough appreciated because of their gender, though that would be worth doing. Nor is it fighting for wider appreciation of more ‘feminine’ and interior domestic scenes as high art the way Griselda Pollock and Linda Nochlin’s separate spheres model is used to explain the aesthetics of Morisot and Cassatt. In Vienna, it is a project uncovering works of astonishing strength and power that were much admired and displayed and copied in their time. It’s uncovering modernist art of landscapes, nudes, still lifes, challenging portraits…nothing in short, that does not achieve excellence within the very male canon.

Their loss from descriptions of Vienna’s fin-de-siecle glory is rooted not just in misogyny, but also in Vienna’s antisemitism and all of WWII’s erasures. A fascinating example of how much was lost is that in 1977 an exhibition of women artists from the Renaissance to the 1950s was held in Vienna, that was

credited with launching new research that has led to changes in the canon, now visible in the inclusion of women artists in survey books and virtual memory systems for students of art history.

It took them 5 years and the women described it as starting from scratch. In 1910 a very similar exhibition was held and very successfully, bringing together art from around Europe as well as showcasing working artists. It was put together in only 6 months…between these two dates there was clearly an erasure, not least of the documentation of the earlier exhibition.

So it is not just in the processes of creating memory we must look, but on the processes that erase it, how women have been excluded.

Another interesting note? Over one-third of the Kunstschau exhibitors in 1908 were women, as were members of Schiele’s Neukunstgroup in 1909. (164) For Museum of Modern Art’s International Survey of Painting and Sculpture in 1984, only ten percent were women. (247)

The exclusion of women from art’s history appears to have been favourable for men’s prominence in major exhibitions.

There are some interesting concepts of identity and the way gender parallels race as well:

Kutluh Ataman, one of many contemporary artists who deal with how race is represented, has put it aptly: “I do not think identity belongs to the individual. Identity is like a jacket. People you never see will make it and you wear it. Identity is something other than you, outside of you. It’s a question of perception. You can be aware of it and manipulate it, play with it, amplify it, or mask it for infinite reasons.” (10)

For Eleanor Heartney, identity

is like a reflection in still water–it is only clearly visible until you reach out and try to grasp it in your hand.

I rather like those two, I need to think more about them.

I also realised I will throw around the words modern and Modernism occasionally, but have never been entirely sure what official (and I am sure contested) definitions of those might be as it is not especially my field. So I found it interesting that Vienna is

characterized as birthplace of modernism, but only in fields outside the history of art–in cultural studies, philosophy, science, music, psychology, architecture, and literature… By Modernism with a capital M, I refer to the doctrine articulated best by Clement Greenberg: that the best art is self-critical about its own medium and is autonomous.(10)

Thus material takes precedence over subject, so for Greenberg Manet is the 1st Modernist painter as the paint came first for him — Klimt on the other hand uses allegory, combination of abstraction and naturalistic bodies.

By “autonomy” Greenberg meant freedom from social context and politics. This is why the white cube space of the art gallery is so well suited to sowing modernist works–it removes them into an aesthetic vacuum, where the works relate to each other in a historical progression. (11)

Freedom from context and politics… that is quite fascinating as a definition as well, that wouldn’t have occurred to me though in thinking about art for arts sake and views of the life and role of the artist I see it has been there lurking in my head to some extent all the time. Aesthetically some of the most prominent women, Koller, Luksch-Makowsky, Funke and Blau are clearly part of and pushing the modernist canon, though as women they have  been systematically  left out of it.

The idea that women were not part of Modernism, and only became important public artists in the postmodern phase, had become a truism in the history of art by 1986. This study aims to correct that misperception. (13)

And it does, artist by artist.

Tina Blau:

She had a significant public exhibition record, was given a studio in the prater (a beautiful central park) where the World Exhibition had been held together with another (male) artist named Schindler, in 1879 it became all her own. She was singled out by Prince Regent Luitpold and he regularly visited her there.

It’s important to remember that artists in Vienna never saw themselves as breaking away politically from anything at all. As Johnson remarks later.

Unlike Berlin, where a rift between the avant-garde and the government was an expected part of life, in Vienna the approval of the emperor was a crucial endorsement.

Tina Blau won this endorsement, thus she was envied by her peers and former teacher Shaeffer (who again and again is seen to be working to denigrate his female students and bury their work away from public gaze). He even describes her in a rather nasty review as the student of Schindler, when he knew better as her actual teacher  that the artists had simply shared studio space. She was innovative and brought impressionism to Vienna, had pictures rejected by the Kunstlerhaus as being too progressive, drew amazing landscapes, was very successful in Paris — yet never seen as part of movement. Johnson argues part of that was the mythologies created by the secession artists themselves around father-son relationships, and brotherhood. They couldn’t bear the idea of a mother-son relationship in art, so Blau could not be seen as an early forerunner of their movement or part of Modernism itself.

Yet Spring in the Prater — and all of her paintings — are wondrous. This was bought by the emperor.

Tina Blau Spring at the Prater
Tina Blau, Spring in the Prater, 1882

 

 

Above all I love that her paintings show women in public space and unlike the men, she shows they could inhabit public space without being whores. A number of the artists who are women do that. I wonder if that was infuriating.

She was retiring, never wanted her work associated with gender, but did attempt in her 50s to correct misperceptions of her life and work. She taught at the Art School for Women and Girls, and one of her students was Rosa Mayreder, one of the most well-known feminists of the time, who published a wonderful review of her work. Tina Blau responded thus, in a way that breaks my heart a little but emphasises why reviewing people’s work is very important indeed even beyond the highlighting of excellence and the repetitions that ensure work is known and remembered:

…no one has written like you have, and I will read your article again when I am sad and depressed about the lack of success that I was supposed to get used to and that I did get used too: and then I would agree with you, that my way of being carries some of the blame. (37)

A street was named after her. When she died in 1916, numerous celebrations of her life were held, and in 1933 there was a retrospective exhibition.

Then in 1938 all her paintings removed from galleries as she was a Jew. The street name changed, her name was erased. And then there were those constructing the histories of art in this period, influential art critic Julius Maeier-Graefe for example:

A woman with genius? The thought gives one the shivers. Unhealable sickness, a kind of elephantiasis. (26)

Ugh.

Elena Luksch-Makowsky

She had her own signature block as part of secession group of artists — her husband was a member and she worked to all intents and purposes as one also, though without voting rights. She was on their hanging and design committees for the Raumkunst installations, her work always appearing there.

Elena Luksch-Makowsky, signature block and colour woodcut for the catalogue of the 14th exhibition of the Secession, 1902, 56-57. ONB/Vienna 202.262B Neu.Mag
Elena Luksch-Makowsky, signature block and colour woodcut for the catalogue of the 14th exhibition of the Secession, 1902, 56-57. ONB/Vienna 202.262B Neu.Mag

She also participated in art collectives Wiener Kunst im Hause and the Wiener Werkstatte.

Time, 1902, Panel for the 14th Exhibition of the Vienna Secession (Beethoven Exhibition), now destroyed
Time, 1902, Panel for the 14th Exhibition of the Vienna Secession (Beethoven Exhibition), now destroyed

She was responsible for an entire issue of their in-house magazine Ver Sacrum showing her amazing woodcuts — though somehow this is an issue not reproduced in glossy collections. She drew on Russian folktales and stories for these, along with broadsheets and a whole array of crafts. This is one of her more famous paintings, and it is arresting, below is the painting as it was integrated into the 17th secession exhibition:

Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Adolescentia, 1903, Österrieche Galerie Belvedere, Wien
Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Adolescentia, 1903, Österrieche Galerie Belvedere, Wien

Joseph Hoffman, 17th secession exhibition 1903
Joseph Hoffman, 17th secession exhibition 1903

For all of these women, for a time, Johnson argues Vienna was cosmopolitan and diverse and actually did offer possibilities for women working as public artists. Pictures such as this one were celebrated.

Self Portrait with her son Peter
Self Portrait with her son Peter, 1901

And ‘public art’? These wonderful friezes:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.42.17 copy

She moved with her husband to Hamburg, and during difficult times of inflation and war, Luksch-Makowsky trapped rabbits, gardened, harvested, made everything at home.

She too excluded from histories — Johnson points out not by the Klimt group itself, but by contemporary historians.

Broncia Koller

…when she was rediscovered in the 1980s, she was described as a “painting housewife”

Johnson writes, yet

…she was a serious artist who presented her work in no fewer than forty-six art exhibitions…

Koller was a member of Klimt’s artist association (Kunstschau group), a founding member of Egon Shiele’s New Secession. She was often to be found at the Cafe Museum with Klimt, Wagner, Moser, Hoffman et al, and noted as one of ‘the greats’ in at least one diary. Her focus was much more on interiority — named by Schorske as

a key component of the aesthetic of Vienna 1900, and links developments in interior design to the psychological discoveries of Freud and innovative interior monologues of Arthur Schnitzler.

Interesting that in the 1980s, the label of domesticity and decoration seen as opposite of modernism — of interiority?  They were seen as secluded, cocooned, away from the outside world and its risks. Away from the crowds. This is a difference between art emerging from Vienna and that of other key centres — for the artists of Vienna, it was all about art in life, art as part of life.

Klimt, in his opening speech for Kunstschau 1908, declared the unity of his group and their belief that:

no area of human life was too insignificant or narrow to offer space for artistic striving, that in the words of Morris, even the most unseemly thing, when it is perfectly made, adds to the beauty of this earth, and that progress in culture is founded on permeating life with artistic intention.

Yay Morris (himself intensely political in this belief, which is also curious in the way that seems to be dropped — a true act of ‘Modernism’?). Interesting too that for Klimt, and prominent critic Bahr, studio space, quiet space was

where reason prevailed, unlike the crowds of the street. In Bahr’s scenario, the interior was gendered as masculine and calm while the exterior figured as feminine and unruly, dominated by the unknowing masses. This is the opposite of the Baudelairean vision of public and private, masculine and feminine domains… (134)

Again to return to the interesting division between this kind of view and its inclusion of craft and decorative detail and that of more traditionally understood ‘Modernism’ (I know I need to dig more here into how other people understand this) as opposed to this, where instead:

the decorative, the add-on, the nonessential, and the detail’ as ‘the foil for Modernism, which was seen as adventurous, daring, out in the world, and an art that is avant-garde, autonomous, essential, and self-critical’

For Koller there was no such binary really. And look at these:

Seated Nude (marietta) 1907
Seated Nude (Marietta) 1907

Johnson writes

The female nude was a genre that allowed the avant-garde to distinguish themselves from conservative artists in the nineteeth century. It became a vehicle for making claims to the new, which Modernist artists often did…

I love this painting, how different this slightly awkward pose, this returned gaze between model and artist — not about sex but just, ‘is this the pose you want?’ Maybe a little, ‘are you done yet?’

How better to challenge the genre? I love this one too:

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 12.54.37 copyThe book looks at how these pictures influence Shiele, Erwin Lang, how influences of women’s art upon men are never acknowledged.

Helene Funke

Funke was part of Matisse’s circle in Paris, lived in an apartment building there with Gertrude and Leon Stein. She enjoyed great success in Vienna, but survived the years of inflation and war by becoming a cleaning lady. Fauvist art is not perhaps my favourite, but she was a brilliant artist on the cutting edge of that tradition working there in Vienna, exhibiting there in Vienna, celebrated in Vienna. Then forgotten.

I love this one though, playfully responding to the art of male gazes and women on display.

Helene-Funke+InTheLoge+1904+Kunstmuseum+Linz

Theresa Ries

Ries’s fortune was made when the emperor himself singled out her statue of ‘The Witch’ during an exhibition, and asked to speak to her. Critics quickly changed their opinions of a female sculptor.

The witch is uncanny and truly splendid.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 13.25.29 copyHer Eve is beautiful as well.

The Prince of Lichtenstein allowed her to use a grand suite of rooms next to his picture gallery as her studio. Being Jewish, this studio was later plundered, her history erased, and her statues hacked and defaced.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 13.23.12 copy

Better to remember the ugliness of which fascists are capable, but Teresa Ries at her best. Her Lucifer, sculpted years before Rodin’s Thinker:

Lucifer - Teresa Ries

Like here in her studio with Mark Twain.

CFOS4eUW0AE9qAo

There was Olga Wisinger-Florian, an accomplished impressionist painter herself after a career as a pianist was cut short by an injury to her hand. I love this painting:

In the Beer Garden (later retitled Breakfast at Karlsbad), 1895
In the Beer Garden (later retitled Breakfast at Karlsbad), 1895

More women in public space, talking amongst themselves, not being whores. Wisinger-Florian exhibited widely both in Vienna and Europe, and worked tirelessly to promote the exhibition of women’s paintings. With Marianne Eschenberg she formed the ‘8 Women Artists’ in 1901, curating a highly successful exhibition at the Salon Pisko. They would hold annual exhibitions. She was also active in the Association of Women Writers and Artists of Vienna (VSKW) founded in 1885, formed to ‘promote professional interest and eventually to offer a pension plan for women artists in need.’ This parallel the self-help offer of men-only artists unions.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 09.01.21 copyThere was the Art School of Women and Girls, where Tina Blau and a number of secessionist artists taught. Its graduates formed the Radierclub Wiener Künstlerinnen, or Print Club of Women Artists in 1903, ‘to promote the arts of printmaking in Austria and “win new friends” for the graphic arts by publishing original hand-pulled prints in affordable portfolios.’

I adore their logo.

There was the Association of Women Artists (VBKÖ), founded in 1908 and recognised and supported by the State as an art association. Interestingly, many of the women, both in the exhibitions held by the VBKÖ and ‘8 Women Artists’ felt ambivalent about them, hoping they would act more as a key to opening up the men-only artist groups to women’s membership rather than remaining as separate and gendered institutions. As Johnson writes of the VBKÖ, ‘The group wanted to prove that being separate was a mistake…If the exhibition were successful, the VBKÖ would “no longer be necessary.”‘ (278)

They faced a great challenge, however, despite the success of some in exhibiting alongside men. Above all the strange layers of misogyny floating around Vienna at the time. One of the most curious that of Otto Weininger, who wrote Sex and Character as a thesis that barely passed, but became a huge publishing success in 1903. He had a strange, partly even possibly progressive argument that everyone had some masculine and feminine essence within them through gendered plasma particles coursing through the bloodstream (crikey), but that genius and intellect alone belonged to the male. So successful women ‘were actually dominated by the “M,” or masculine, substance. Something in between a man and a woman.

There were other ideas about how painting was similar to applying makeup, which attracted women to it and defined their painting technique. There is also the narcissism of themselves on display, the love of gaudy colour and fabric. One reviewer of the 1910 retrospective of women’s art described how the pictures seduced the ‘unsuspecting male’.

He credited members of the installation committee with “feminine slyness and clever calculation” in their ability to “capture the visitor…Before a critical word has formed on the lips, a conciliatory, friendly, receptive mood has been awakened in the spectator. (318)

Jesus.

Adolf Loos himself in his polemics against the ornamental and decorative wrote:

Whenever I abuse the object of daily use by ornamenting it, I shorten its life span . . . subject to fashion, it dies sooner. Only the whim and ambition of women can be responsible for the murder of this material. (322)

Which makes you hate him. But then, surprisingly, he also comes around with the argument that:

Ornament is something that must be overcome…But we are approaching a new and greater time. No longer by an appeal to sensuality, but rather by economic independence earned through work will the woman bring about her equal status with the man. The woman’s value or lack of value will no longer fall or rise according to the fluctuation of sensuality. Then velvet and silk, flowers and ribbons, feathers and paint will fail to have their effect. They will disappear. (80)

This conversation ended with the Nazis. Johnson writes by 1945,

approximately three generations of women artists had been — for racist or political reasons, rarely aesthetic ones — erased, driven into exile, deported to concentration camps, their works removed from museum walls and public settings. (337)

This was the destruction of both women’s artwork, and women themselves, as well as the history of women as public artists. Only in 1988 did Austria recognise it was not just a victim of the Nazis, but participated in their cleansings. Given that many of the same collaborating artists, museum personnel and critics continued operating there was little hope of recuperating and recovering women’s art removed from walls and studios, much less that of Jewish women. It seemed that it has been many of their children who have worked hardest to save what could be saved, and to bring their work to the public once again.

The highlighting and constant repetition of certain stories of art in Vienna, the functioning of the memory factory, meant the silencing of others. There is so much here both in terms of extraordinary art, but also around memory and forgetting, historiography, identity… wonderful.

[Johnson, Julie M. (2012) The Memory Factory: The Forgotten Women Artists of Vienna 1900. West Lafayette, IN: Perdue University Press.]

 

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Else Jerusalem and Vienna’s prostitutes

In 1908 Else Jerusalem wrote an exposé of prostitution in Vienna, a runaway best seller. Translated into English in 1932, it is almost nowhere to be found now.

I heard of her watching a BBC program on Vienna (‘Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities’), the only woman featured from this study of Vienna in this incredible year of 1908. A year which epitomised the key role Vienna was playing in the shaping of modernity. Freud first discovered the Oedipus Complex, Klimt had a major exhibition, the launch also of expressionist artists Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Shiele, the first example of modernist architecture by  Adolf Loos, Arnold Schoenberg and musical modernism, the mayor Lueger’s antisemitism (“I will decide who is a Jew” he said) picked up by a young Adolf Hitler.

Only one woman.

She came near the end, with a much appreciated look beneath the glamour, the dark underside of the pomp and bright lights (darker even than the malaise and immensely high number of suicides). We get one fascinating and brief look at Else Jerusalem, and the 50,000 prostitutes of the city.

Denied a place at university as a woman, Jerusalem conducted her own research and wrote a book called the Red House on the treatment of women and prostitution during the height of imperial Vienna. A best-seller, reprinted multiple times. From a middle-class Jewish family, she wrote other books and articles but almost nothing is known about her, and there seems to have been one English translation of in 1932. The Open Library says this:

A shattering exposé of prostitution in Vienna, published in 1908, it lifted the lid on the hypocrisy of polite Society and the miserable suffering inflicted on powerless women, who frequently were subject to severe abuse, venereal disease, near slavery and a drastically reduced life-span. Factual/investigative journalism.

The Spectator of 23 September 1932 said this:

THE RED HOUSE. By Else Jerusalem. (Werner Laurie. 7s. 6d.)

Readers who can stomach the subject of this novel will find it exceedingly well done. Those who cannot (the theme is prostitution) are advised to leave it alone.

I looked for her. All I could find was this:

jerusalem_elseBiographie

E. J. (geb. Kotányi), geb. am 23. November 1876 in Wien, stammt aus bürgerlich-jüdischer Familie ungarischer Herkunft. Sie genießt eine höhere Bildung und gehört zu den ersten außerordentlichen Hörerinnen der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Wien. Anschließend betätigt sie sich als „Vortragskünstlerin“ und Schriftstellerin. Bereits in jungen Jahren widmet sie sich dem brisanten Thema der weiblichen Sexualität („Venus am Kreuz“, „Komödie der Sinne“). Die 1902 erscheinende Broschüre „Gebt uns die Wahrheit“ beschäftigt sich mit der Vorbereitung junger Mädchen auf die Ehe, wobei E. J. vehement für sexuelle Aufklärung eintritt. 1909 erscheint ihr fast 700 Seiten starker Bestseller-Roman “Der heilige Skarabäus”. Sein Inhalt ist für eine Schriftstellerin der Jahrhundertwende skandalös und ein Tabu-Bruch: er handelt im Bordell-Milieu. 1901 heiratet sie in erster Ehe den Fabrikanten Alfred Jerusalem, mit dem sie zwei Kinder hat. Nach der Scheidung geht sie eine zweite Ehe mit Viktor Widakowich ein und geht mit ihm nach Argentinien, wo sie ethnologische Studien betreibt und vermutlich 1942 stirbt. Über ihr Leben nach der Emigration ist leider sehr wenig bekannt.

I don’t speak German. So this is a bookmark to dig deeper.

Also mentioned, and also to look into deeper, was the fascinating study by photographer Hermann Drawe and journalist Emil Kläger from 1900: ‘The Third Men / Living in the sewers’. Pictures turned into lectures showing the misery of hundreds (thousands?) of people living underground. Reminds me of the people from New York’s subways written about in Tunnel People, that I helped translate and edit, and the film Dark Days. Portraits of a bankrupt society.

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© Hermann Drawe, ca. 1900, ‘The Third Men / Living in the sewers’, Vienna / Austria Vienna, around 1900

For more on women and struggle…

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