four museums in a day: secession

My next stop was the Secession House, so named because the painter Gustav Klimt and some of his friends decided in 1897 to secede from the Viennese art establishment. This had a lot to do with a situation in which Klimt had found himself a couple of years before. He had been commissioned to paint ceilings for Vienna University on various subjects, and had gone so flat out on it that the University had rejected what he did. Although personally I would die for this sort of thing on my ceiling, you can see why the learned gentlemen were disturbed:


Apart from anything else, they took exception to the fact that he had painted a naked pregnant woman in the top right hand corner, next to death – in those days you weren’t supposed to paint naked pregnant women at all, let alone link the opposite ends of life (pregnancy and death) so clearly! People were very shocked, By the way, this image is in black and white because it is a photograph; the original, colour version of this (and his other paintings for the University ceiling) were burned by the Nazis (Adolf Hitler’s gang) on the very last day of World War II in 1945 (which puts them well into contention, as if they weren’t already, for the title of Stupidest People of the 20th Century). Only one piece survived in colour, which was this:


This very self-confident and knowledgeable-looking woman represents Medicine; you can tell that because she is handling, almost without even trying, the snake which traditionally is associated with the medical arts.

Anyway, Klimt and his friends broke away from the traditional artists, and, because some rich and powerful people agreed with them, built this building near the middle of Vienna:


114 years after it was built, it still has displays of the latest art – though it seems that Klimt’s heirs aren’t quite up to his standard. On the ground floor, there was a bunch of domestic plywood fittings painted pink:


Not surprisingly, no-one was in there looking at them. Nor was there anybody upstairs, where some old magazine pages had been ripped out and chucked haphazardly in display cases. They don’t make them like they used to in Vienna, I guess…

so just as well that they have an astonishing piece of Klimt in the basement: the Beethoven frieze. This starts with some naked people praying to their knight in shining armor to represent them in dealing with life’s challenges (while ambition and compassion hover over his head):


The challenges include some gorgons (with their crazy hair), a scary beast, lasciviousness, and gluttony, amongst others:


before the lovers finally reach their destination, a kiss, while a chorus of women sings Beethoven’s Ode to Joy:


Of course that doesn’t even come close to describing it, but it will have to do as a summary…

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