Arts and Society in Fin-de-Siècle Vienna

Elana ShapiraFebruary 7 - 184 ECTS


This course will explore the significant role of the arts in shaping Viennese society around 1900. This interdisciplinary course examines well-known works in the visual arts by: architects Otto Wagner, Carl König, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos and their students; designers Kolo Moser and Vally Wieselthier; artists Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka; photographers Madame d’Ora and Moritz Nähr; literary figures Hermann Bahr and Peter Altenberg; and in performing arts collaborations between figures such as playwright Hugo von Hofmannsthal and dancer Grete Wiesenthal. It will introduce the Viennese producers as part of a creative phenomenon of multi-talented architects and artists. For example, the architect Adolf Loos was also a cultural critic, artist Oskar Kokoschka was also a playwriter, and composer Arnold Schönberg was also an artist. The course aims to show how collaboration within the arts helped shape modern group and individual identities. Furthermore, it will require students to examine how cultural stereotypes were challenged or reinforced and how this shaped progressive perspectives regarding social integration and gender roles in the city.


The course will include the following topics:

  • The Ringstrasse and the Heritage of Historicism: the construction of the Ringstrasse as a European cultural project representing liberalism and Positivist philosophy; the architects of the Ringstrasse: the new museums, theaters and concert halls; the new patrons of art and science;
  • The Wiener Secession and the “Sacred Spring”: Architect Otto Wagner’s constructions and stations and his modernist buildings; author and critic Hermann Bahr and the literary group “Jung Wien” (Young Vienna); art critic Berta Zuckerkandl and her salon; architect Joseph Maria Olbrich and the clients of the Secession; the Secession House and the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk (Total-Art-Work).
  • Architect Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshop): Early modernist architecture and design by Hoffmann; the textile industrialist and art patron, Fritz Waerndorfer; the architect Hoffmann’s cooperation with the artist Gustav Klimt; design and fashion: the Wiener Werkstätte and the fashion salon of the “Flöge Sisters”.
  • Architect Adolf Loos and the Coffe House Circle: Loos’s coffee house circle with poet Peter Altenberg, composer Arnold Schönberg and author and editor Karl Kraus; Loos’s cultural criticism; design and men’s fashion; Loos’s works: Café Museum, American Bar, Goldman & Salatsch Building, Steiner House, and Scheu House; Loos and his protégée, the Expressionist artist Oskar Kokoschka.
  • Excursion: Jugendstil Buildings in the Inner City
  • The Role of Art in Modern Theater: History of the cabaret in Vienna and the program of Cabaret Fledermaus; the artistic collaboration between dancer Grete Wiesenthal and author Hugo von Hofmannsthal; artist and playwriter Kokoschka and his dramas at the Kunstschau (Art Show) 1909.
  • Women Artists and Patrons: Artists and designers Elena Luksch-Makowsky and Vally Wieselthier; architects Ella Briggs, Liane Zimbler, and Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky after the First World War; political activist Rosa Mayreder and reform educator Eugenie Schwarzwald and the architect Adolf Loos; artist Broncia Koller-Pinell and art patron Sonja Knips and the architect Josef Hoffmann.
  • Photography and Art: Madame D’Ora and Moritz Nähr, celebrities’ photographers; artistic-, documentary-, crime-, and erotic photography and modern art in Vienna.
  • Design and Utopia - Shaping a Better Society: The Schools of Otto Wagner and Carl König; Hubert Gessner’s House for the Workers in Favoriten; Vorwärts House for the publishing house of the social-democratic party and this party’s headquarters in Margareten; Ernst von Gotthilf’s Home for Homeless Families in Brigittenau; the humanistic perspective of Josef Frank and Wiener Wohnkultur (Viennese Home Culture); social housing and the “acculturation” project of the working class in the interwar period.


Requirements: Attendance and participation in class discussion constitute 30%, small group discussion based on reading-assignments and the presentations 20%, and a written final paper 50% of the grade.