The Emperor Franz Joseph 1st was head of state and married to Elizabeth known as Sisi. It was not a happy union and she spent much of the time away from the court. After the suicide of her son Crown Prince Rudolf, she suffered a nervous breakdown and was finally assassinated.
The assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Archduchess Sophie in Sarajevo in 1914 resulted in the outbreak of the 1st World War and the beginning of the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Otto Wagner, born in1841 was to design a new Vienna. Proclaiming himself to be the radical architect to move into the 20th Century, he transformed the city using a combination of Renaissance, Gothic and Classical design. He introduced a modern element for greater domestic use. The old city walls were dismantled and on the grand Ringstrasse which surrounded the city, he designed large residential buildings, an opera house and finally a railway system to reach the outskirts of the city. He was also granted the task to of building a new psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Vienna. Devised to create a more relaxed atmosphere for the mentally ill to aid their recovery, he constructed a village complex complete with theatre, coffee houses and a chapel.
Gustav Klimt, an Imperialist and muralist painter, had proved to be brilliant draughtsman at the School of Applied Art and his early paintings of peoples on theatre and staircase walls aped the work of Van Dyke. When he created his iconic painting ‘The Kiss’ which coincided with the 60th jubilee celebration of the Emperor Franz Joseph, it was both controversial and disturbing and raised many questions. It depicted a strong, virile male clasping a delicate, pale and seemingly lifeless woman on the edge of a precipice. Was this depicting the demise of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire?
Finally, this group of forward thinking liberal artists which included Hoffman, Moser, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others left the confines of the Association of Austrian Artists the Vienna Knustlerhaus and moved to new premises which came to be known as the Secession building. It was there that their new concepts of art could be fostered and developed. The day ended with a flourish as we listened to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. It was a fitting end.
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