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The Forgotten Women of Viennese Modernism

Posted on 06 Nov 2018

2018 marked the passing of 100 years since the deaths of four major Viennese modernists — Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Koloman Moser, and Otto Wagner — and the Austrian capital is celebrating in style with a number of centenary exhibitions and events. But the extraordinary flourishing of Vienna’s fin-de-siècle wasn’t just about radical nudes, big buildings, and these four famous men. Our new book, 'Vienna 1900 Complete', explores all artistic fields of this remarkable cultural moment, with a particular focus on its all too often overlooked female practitioners.

Madame D’Ora

Dora Philiippine Kallmus was the first woman to be admitted on the theory courses of Vienna’s Graphic Training Institute. In 1905, she became a member of the Association of Austrian photographers and went on to establish her own studio in Vienna with Artur Benda. Working under the pseudonym Madame d’Ora, Kallmus established herself as a leading portrait photographer across Europe, with subjects including Josephine Baker, Coco Chanel, Tamara de Lempicka, and Colette. She deployed a typically neutral background with few, if any, props. All focus was channeled on the sitter’s expression, with pristine lighting ensuring clear contours, detailed textures, and striking fabric folds.

Actress Helene Jamrich in a winter hat designed for the Wiener Werkstätte. Photograph by Madame d’Ora.

Anita Berber and Sebastian Droste in a scene from the dance performance of 'Martyrs', 1922. Photograph by Madame d’Ora.

The Wiener Werkstätte

In 1903, graphic designer Koloman Moser joined forces with architect Josef Hoffmann to establish the ‘Wiener Werkstätte’ (Vienna Workshop) — a large scale cooperative of artists and artisans pioneering modernist aesthetics, traditional craft, and the ‘total work of art’ or Gesamtkunstwerk, in which every element of an environment plays a part. While the male founders’ names have dominated the history books, women actually made up the larger number of this creative hub, among them painter and printmaker Mela Koehler, the designer Gisela Falke von Lilienstein, and graphic designer, Leopoldine Kolbe. Women’s presence and influence in the Werkstätte grew further still with the opening of textile and fashion divisions in 1909-10.

Design by Leopoldine Kolbe for the Wiener Werkstätte broadsheet no.14. The workshop produced a number of illustrated publications.

Vally Wieselthier was one of the leading figures of the Wiener Werkstätte’s ceramic department, specialized in bold and witty figurines embodying turn-of-the-century optimism and verve. In 1920, when the workshop’s new business director begun his campaign to introduce fixed salaries and production supervision, Wieselthier left in protest at the infringement of creative freedom. She returned to the Werkstätte seven years later, but left Austria permanently for the United States in 1933.

Vally Wieselthier 'Figure with Headdress', 1927. Ceramic, red body, colored glazes. Made by the Wiener Werkstätte

Find more in Vienna 1900 Complete, our sumptuous hardback edition of the Viennese modernism, curated by three scholars of the period and illustrated with the most outstanding and original examples of painting, poster design, fashion, photography, ceramics, silverwork, furniture and architecture.


Words by Eliza Apperly.


Vienna 1900 Complete

Christian Brandstätter, Rainer Metzger, Daniela Gregori