Art and Satirical Magazines in Fin de Siècle Germany and Austria
Art and satirical magazines flourished in fin de siècle Germany and Austria yet to this day, little study has been undertaken on this topic largely the result of historians not regarding illustration and humour as ‘serious’ areas of study.
Art journals like Jugend, Ver Sacrum, Jugend and Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration made important contributions to the areas of graphic design, typography and illustration, and are also, through their photographic reproductions, an important historical source for contributions to the arts of the period. Artists like Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Lyonel Feininger, Alphonse Mucha all began as magazine illustrators and much of these early illustrations are a window into the development of their style. The art and humour magazine Jugend leant its name to the new style Jugendstil, Germany’s equivalent of Art nouveau, and along with other magazines, helped to spread the style throughout Germany and the rest of Europe.
It is also important not to dismiss satirical and humorist journals as frivolous and lacking historical importance. Often, humour and satire reflect a broader critique of existing institutions and beliefs. While several historians—Klaus Schultz, Anne Taylor Allen—have analyzed these magazines for their political content; I wish to focus exclusively on satire and humour in relation to Jugendstil and the Vienna Secession in order to understand the social impact these styles had at the time as they were shifting from outsider to mainstream status.
One of the unlikely outcomes of the rise of urbanization and universal education in the late 19th century was the change in reading habits from books to magazines and newspapers. As the lower classes became more politically aware, daily periodicals were a means for them to be kept abreast of social issues while also serving, through satirical journals, as an outlet for political dissent. Between 1888 and 1900, there were 2,150 new magazines founded in Germany alone with circulations from 50,00 (Kladderadatch) to as much as 600,000 (Berliner Illustrierte).[i] When one takes into account that these magazines were also passed around cafes and libraries, we can assume that readership far exceeded these circulation numbers.
The coffeehouse, in particular, became the bedfellow of the periodicals and one could likely not have existed without the other. Coffeehouse culture was at its peak in fin de siècle Vienna as the coffeehouse became a common meeting place for intellectuals and artists to exchange ideas. The Siebener Club group (the Seven Club), which would go on to form the Vienna Secession, met regularly at the Café Sperl while the Hagendbund met at the Café Blauhaus. Sigmund Freud was a regular patron of Café Landmann, and Gustav Mahler of the Café Imperial. Many of the patrons of coffeehouses were ‘Bettgeher’ (Bedgoers)—lower middle-class Viennese who lived in the overcrowded poor districts, often with seven people to a room and no indoor toilets or running water. [ii] These coffeehouses offered a refuge from their drab housing conditions and most importantly, an opportunity to partake in the hundreds of newspapers and magazines on offer, all for the price of a cup of coffee. In Café Central in Vienna, patrons could choose from 200 Austrian and international publications listed in a catalogue. [iii]
The term ‘graphic design’ was not yet established in fin de Siécle Austria, when art journals began to give consideration not only to content, but also to their design. It was only in 1922 when American designer William Addison Dwiggins first used the term in order to distinguish between utilitarian printing and printing for purpose.[iv] Up until this point, the graphic arts was generally practiced by artists trained at art academies who, in addition to being painters, worked as type designer, illustrators, poster designers and book designers. It is thanks to this lack of distinction between fine art and graphic art that we find such varied and rich examples of illustration and typography in journals of this period. The list of prominent artists who began their early careers producing illustration for magazines is impressive: Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Bertold Loeffler for Meggendorfer Blätter, Oskar Kokoschka for Der Strum, Lyonel Feininger, Julius Klinger, and Hans Baluschek for Das Narenschiff, Hans Christiansen and Thomas Thoedore Hiene for Jugend, just to name a few.
The turn of the century also saw the rise of magazines focusing on interior design. Using as their model, the British arts and crafts magazine The Studio, German publishers took up the subject of interior design as a way of funding their publications– through the advertisements of designers and decorators within the magazines, but also as a way of promoting a reform of living whereby good design and craftsmanship should encompass all areas of one’s life. Magazines like Das Interieur and Innendekoration brought the staged interior to prominence, selling not only the featured furniture, textiles, metalwork and jewelry in the photo, but the lifestyle associated with it. [v]
Another new trend in these new magazines was the focus on their design and printing. Unlike previous magazines, which were produced with the intention of being discarded after reading, the new art journals were meant to be kept and collected, a trend that had already begun with the collecting of advertising posters. Publishers sought out the best papers and inks, taking advantage of advancements in chromolithographic printing and often included high-quality prints that readers could remove and display.
Perhaps the most popular German art journal was Jugend (Youth) because of its particular role in the burgeoning Art Nouveau movement. Founded in Munich 1896, it was one of the earliest magazines to feature Art Nouveau illustration, a style which had originated France and Belgium under the name of Le Style Modern. The style was known for its curvilinear forms derived from plants and flowers as well as its rejection of industrialism in favor of hand-made crafts. In the field of graphic arts, the style was heavily influenced by Japanese woodblock prints in its use of contour lines around forms and the preference for flat fields of colour and pattern. As the style spread to Germany, it was given the name Jugendstil (‘in the style of Jugend’) after the magazine which had helped popularize the style. In the first year alone, Jugend enjoyed a readership of 200,00 a week. [vi]
The magazine was the idea of George Hirth, a Munich based writer and journalist with a keen interest in philosophy, arts and sciences. Hirth was also a close friend of zoologist and philosopher Ernst Heckel and shared his interest Moism, becoming the co-founder of the Moist society of Munich. He also took a keen interest in the Theosophy movement, forming a relationship with Theosophist artist Hugo Höppener (know as Fidus, 1868 – 1948) who would contribute hundreds of illustrations for the magazine often depicting nude youth in idealized natural surroundings.
While Jugend’s literary and satirical contributions are considered mediocre compared to other contemporary magazines like Simplicissimus, its richly coloured graphic art set it aside from other magazines, which were predominantly text-based and printed in monotones. Jugend featured over 250 artists in its early years, and while not all worked in the art nouveau style, certain illustrators like Hans Christiansen, J. R. Witzel, Ernst Barlach, Peter Behrens, Bruno Paul, Otto Eckmann, and Fidus created Jugendstil covers and text borders that gave the magazine its modern look.
Another unique development of the magazine was in allowing its cover artist to also design the masthead, which helped spread the art of typographic design throughout Germany. Artists like Hans Christiansen incorporated elements of poster art design whereby typography and illustration were combined in a unified design. Jugend ceased publication in 1940 having by then become primarily a propaganda vehicle for the Nazi party.
Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration
One of the biggest promoters of German interior design and architecture was publisher Alexander Koch who established the journal Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration (German Art and Decoration) in October 1897 and which ran until 1935. Koch recognized that power of the art periodical to influence taste, particularly among a middle class audience, saying: “without our new art-periodicals (there would be) no decorative art.” [vii] Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration was his homage to Jugendstil, but also one of the first attempts to focus exclusively on interior design.
Devoted primarily to the applied arts, the journal took its cue from the ideas of the Vienna Secession by seeking to eliminate the distinction between decorative and fine arts, and artist and craftsman. Within the pages of a typical issue, one could find subjects raging from ex-libris design, to type-design, to metal ware. The magazine also promoted the Vienna Secession’s exhibitions as well as covering the work of the Wiener Werkstätte in 12 special issues between October 1904 and March 1911.
Unlike other interior design magazines like Das Interieur which relied heavily on artists interior and architectural drawings, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration took full advantage of photographic reproductions. Seeing his magazine like a shop window, Koch brought the staged interior to prominence by arranging furniture and objects in ‘lived in’ settings. In this way, Koch could promote furniture, textiles, metalwork and jewelry items in the photo, while also promoting the lifestyle associated with it.
Koch’s experience working for the typographer and printer Flinsch of Offenbach am Main, as well as his excellent drawing skills meant that he took a special interest in the design of the magazine. Like Jugend, Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration allowed its featured artist to design the entire cover, thus reflecting Koch’s ideas of integration in the arts whereby text image should be in harmony with each other. In the first three years, there were cover designs by Hans Christiansen, Koloman Moser, Jan Toorop, Peter Behrens, and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.
Of all the art periodicals printed in fin de siècle Vienna, Ver Sacrum-Organ der Bildender Vereinigung Kunstler Osterreichs, the official journal of the Vienna Secession remains the most ambitious and groundbreaking. Its advances in graphic design, typography and illustration set the model for later art magazine design and continues to influence magazine and book design to this day.
The first issue was released in January of 1898 with its arrival being announced in leading newspapers as a subscription journal. For the first two years, the journal was published monthly with each issue devoted to the work of a particular artist also in charge of designing the issue’s cover. In 1898, the July issue was devoted to the Czech art nouveau designer Alphonse Mucha, while the December issue was illustrated by Dutch symbolist painter Fernand Khnopff.
For the cover of the first issue, Alfred Roller provided an illustration of a blossoming planted tree with the roots breaking out of it’s container. The metaphor was appropriate – the Secessionists had freed themselves from the confines of the Kunstlerhaus (Vienna’s conservative exhibiting body) bringing their modernist and utopian message to the public. They wrote in the first issue: “Our aim is to awaken, encourage and propagate the artistic perception of our time….we know no difference between ‘great art’ and ‘intimate art’, between art for the rich and art for the poor. We have dedicated ourselves with our whole power and future hopes, with everything that we are to the Sacred Springtime”. [viii]
This name chosen for the magazine: Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring) was a classical reference to the secession of youths from the elders of the city to found a new society. This idea of youth as a symbol of rebellion and innovation was nothing new, it was the very heart of the Jugendstil movement and the Lebensreform movement (life reform) that accompanied it. Yet, while Jugendstil rejected historicism, the Vienna Secession embraced it- drawing analogies between themselves and the ancient youths but also recognizing that modernism could co-exist with the ideals of classical art.
The release of the first issue was pre-mature given that it was eleven months before the opening of the Joseph Olbrich Secession House and 3 months before their first exhibition in the Horticultural hall. However, one can look at the early release as a dress rehearsal for many of the ideas that would be developed in their exhibitions. Ver Sacrum served as an exhibition in itself, using the blank pages as walls in a museum. The magazine’s principle designer, Koloman Moser, approached the layout with great creativity, constantly altering it within whilst creating a beautiful harmony of text and illustration. When Olbrich’s Secession House did begin to hold exhibits, this same modular approach to picture arrangement was adopted by Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann through the unique use of moving partitions and walls within the structure.
In both its harmony of text and image and in its inclusion of multiple art forms, Ver Sacrum was a manifestation of composer Richard Wagner’s ideas of ‘Gesamkunstwerk’- a total work of art. In one of Alfred Roller’s entries as Secession secretary from June 1897, he discusses the idea for the magazine that would encompass all the arts: “Moser suggested publishing an art magazine as an official organ of the association. Directive: the fine arts, poetry and belles-lettres. Prose will not be excluded if joined with fine art.[ix] The magazine did in fact live up to this goal; including, in addition to fine and graphic arts, music, poetry, and theatre into its pages. The poems of Rainer Maria Rilke appeared in 1898 and 1899 issues, juxtaposed with stunning decorative borders by Koloman Moser while the December 1901 issue was devoted entirely to music, featuring 11 richly illustrated lieder by contemporary Austrian.
Most unique of all was the magazine’s square format—a radical new step in the design of periodicals. The square, and more so the grid, had found its way from the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement, particularly in the work of Charles Mackintosh who became a corresponding member if the Secession. This format offered new possibilities in layout for the designer’s use of multiple text columns, decorative borders, and negative space. The square format became their ideal aspect ratio as most of their illustrations were executed in this format, while Klimt chose it for the majority of his landscape paintings. Years later, The Dutch Art-Deco periodical Wendingen would also adopt the square format and push the limits of typographic and layout design even further.
Ver Sacrum ceased production in December 1903, likely because of lack of funds. It had already seen a gradual decline in its quality in 1900 when, production increased to 24 issues a year, but in a much smaller and slimmer format than those produced in the first two years. The unique changing covers from 1898-99 were replaced with a repeating masthead, and text replaced much of the graphic borders and motifs.
Simplicissimus / Quelle Sacrum
Late 19th century Germany and Austria saw a rise in the popularity of satirical journals partly because of the strong divisions between political parties at the time. Known as ‘Witzblatter’, these weekly magazines combined humour and illustration to make light of changing political, social and cultural attitudes and used the political cartoon to appeal to a growing and politically active middle-class audience. The circulation numbers of some of these magazines reflect their popularity: Simplicissimus founded in 1896 had a circulation of 86,000 by 1908 while Jugend had roughly 70,000.[x]
Perhaps the best known satirical Journal from this period was Simplicissimus, founded by publisher Albert Langen in Munich, 1896. Having an interest in avant-garde literature, Langen’s original vision was to create a magazine that promoted literary modernism but very quickly, Simplicissimus became a journal focusing on political satire. The title chosen for the magazine was a reference to a picaresque 17th century novel by Johan Jakob Christoffel von Grimmels-Hausen which recounts the struggle for salvation of a naïve hero named Simplicissimus. Inspired by the events of the Thirty Years’ War, the hero struggles through the horrors of war, eventually denouncing the world as corrupt and turning to a life of hermitage. This theme of humour in the face of horror would be at the heart of the magazine’s use of biting satire. Attacking militarism, religion, imperialism, the class system, and the authoritarian state, it wasn’t long before Simplicismuss became a symbol of anti-establishment among its young, middle class educated readers. Unsurprisingly, the magazine suffered several lawsuits such as the Palestine Affair of 1898, when the magazine featured cartoons mocking Kaiser Wilhelm’s trip to Palestine, as well as irreverent references to religious shrines and personalities. With the exception of this incident, which forced Langen to flee to Switzerland in order to avoid a prison sentence, most lawsuits resulted in small fines and undoubtedly helped to spread the popularity of the magazine even further through media attention.
It was Simplicissimus’ strong emphasis on the visual—it included more cartoons than other contemporary satire magazines—which lead to its success. The popularity of the political cartoon can be traced to the change in reading habits from the rise of urbanization at the turn of the century. Because of longer working hours and commutes to and from work, people had less time for leisurely reading and newspapers and magazines soon replaced books as the main source of reading material. The cartoon became an even faster way of engaging the reader as it could be enjoyed on a commuter train, streetcar, or during a rushed breakfast.
The most well known of Simplicissimus’ illustrators, was Thomas Theodore Heine, an illustrator from a wealthy Jewish family in Leipzig. The fact that Heine also received a prison sentence during the Palestine affair showed how potent the political cartoon was in turn of the century Germany. Critics found Heine’s cartoons grotesque and enigmatic, and criticized his cruel depiction of the poor, contrasting it with Kathe Kollwitz’s more sympathetic depictions. By the standards of the day, Heine’s illustration would have indeed been considered violent. From a five-headed monster devouring the intestines of a man, or dog tearing at the throats of small children, Heine sought to depict the military violence and exploitation of the poor with stark honesty—something the Neue Sachlichkeit artists like George Grosz and Otto Dix would pick up on two decades later. Reacting to Heine’s cartoons, critics jumped at the opportunity to attack the magazine’s ‘Jewishness’, in spite-of the fact that he was the only Jewish illustrator employed at the magazine. Many Germans associated modernism and, in turn, the cultural decline of Germany with Jews. In their eyes, it was the Jews–the main promoters of rationalism and liberalism–who were corrupting German values established by German Romanticism.[xi]
While Heine contributed to the political influence of the magazine, it was the illustrator Bruno Paul who contributed to the magazine’s modern visual style. A prolific illustrator, architect and furniture designer, Paul had been one of the founding members of the Munich Secession where he’d rubbed shoulders with leading Jugendstil artists Franz von Stuck, Angelo Jank and Paul Hoecker. It was through his connections in the Munich Secession that he began illustrating first for art and humour magazine Jugend in 1896, and then Simplicissmus in 1897- bringing with him the his unique Jugendstil style. Paul’s illustrations are dominated by their undulating contour lines, flat fields of colour, and pattern-all chief traits of Art Nouveau which had found it’s way into Germany by way of French Art Nouveau and the British Arts and Crafts movement. When we juxtapose these Art Nouveau elements with the exaggerated poses and caricatures of his subjects, we are reminded of the work of the Expressionist painter Egon Schiele who began to distort the figure and depict the grotesque.
Throughout the Weimar Republic, Simplicissimus continued to attack political repression and religious intolerance, adding to its targets the rise of national socialism and anti-Semitism. Eventually and after years of attacks and threats on the staff, the national socialists managed to take over the magazine, forcing its editors Franz Schoenberner and Thomas Thoedore Heine into exile abroad. Many of the original staff such as Karl Arnold, Olaf Gulbransson, Edward Thöny, Erich Schilling and Wilhelm Schulz chose to remain and conform to the Nazi party line. After several years of a decline in publishing, the magazine finally ceased publication in 1944.
Meggendorfer Blätter and Quer Sacrum
We tend to think of the Vienna Secession as a small break away group that existed on the fringes of mainstream Austrian art, yet a study of historical documentation reveals a different story. When we examine magazines and newspapers from this period, it is striking how much attention is given to Jugendstil and the Vienna Secession, even if that attention is often in the form of mockery rather than flattery. Historian Ann Taylor Allen writes that “In every society (humour) sensitively reflects the tension between conservatism and radicalism, conformity and rebellion.”[xii] In other words, it is crucial not to dismiss this humor and satire as the philistine attacks on the Secession, but quite the opposite; as reflecting a critique of existing institutions and beliefs. Humour and satire was a way for the public to engage with the works of the Secession without appearing to be anti-establishment. The attention given to the Secession in these magazines is also a testament to how much its ideas had spread throughout Viennese society in such a short period of time. Secession was á la mode and rapidly becoming part of mainstream cultural Vienna.
While there were certainly magazines and newspapers that appealed to an anti-modernist conservative public, even publications on the left indulged in mocking the Secession style while simultaneously supporting and spreading the new aesthetic. Meggendorfer Blätter, Founded in Munich in 1888, was the creation of Lothar Meggendorfer (1847–1925, Munich), a German illustrator who became well know for his pop-up books. The magazine employed Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann and their illustrations created in 1897 and 1898, just before they joined the Vienna, are early examples of the unique decorative borders and typography that they would later develop in the Secession journal Ver Sacrum. Also employed was Mila Von Luttich, who produced illustrations for the magazine from 1902-1920 and is considered the unsung hero of Secession style graphic art, partly because of the Vienna Secession’s prohibition of female members. Her stunning Secession-style illustrations in Meggendorfer Blätter mocked the very excessive stylization of the Secession typography and interior design yet showed a synthesis of pattern design and typography that was unmatched only by her contemporary Koloman Moser. In one cartoon, an older man scratches his head unable to decipher the new Secessionist typefaces appearing on posters. In another cartoon called ‘Secessionist’s pillow’ a young woman uneasily prepares to lie down on a nightmarish Secessionist-style pillow.
One satirical publication that reveals the popularity of the Vienna Secession, was Quer Sacrum- Organ der Vereingun Bilder Kunstler, (Skewed Spring: Journal of the Union of Fine Arts of Crazyland) produced in 1899 as a parody of the Secession and it’s journal Ver Sacrum. The chief illustrator was Bertold Loeffler, a student of Koloman Moser who would go on to become an important figure in the Wiener Wekrstätte – the decorative arts company formed in 1903 by Moser and Josef Hoffmann. Like Ver Sacrum, the magazine was square in format and featured illustrations done in the style of Hoffmann and Moser. The cover illustration mocked the Secessionist’s adoption of historicism, by parodying Klimt’s 1898 painting Pallas Athena. Rather than holding a female nude as the ideal of beauty in art, Löffler’s Athena holds an artist with palette and broom, mocking the Secessionist’s claim as reformer in the Visual arts— cleaning out the old to make way for the new. Accompanying the title on the cover, Loffler puts Bründlefeld as the location, the site of the main insane asylum in Vienna. Like Mila von Luttich, Loeffler also mocked excessive stylizing in favor of functionalism within Secessionist design, reproducing a Josef Hoffmann design for an entranceway and re-labeling it as an “Easy chair for my Grandfather”. The fact that Ver Sacrum’s original illustrations, text, and images were not reproduced in Quer Sacrum, implies that a large amount of the public were already familiar with it’s content and could enjoy the parodies offered by Löffler.
The event surrounding the publication of Quer Sacrum is further evidence to how widespread the Vienna Secession was at the time. The magazine was distributed at the Grosser Fest-Corso und Frühlings-Fest—a charity-event organized by Pauline Sandor von Matternich and held on June 1 and 2, 1899 on the grounds of the Prater in Vienna. The festival was an enormous parody of the Secession, complete with a ‘Secessionist village’ designed by Burgtheatre stage designer Gilbert Lehner (1844-1923) and housing examples of ‘dysfunctional’ architecture such as an upside-down house, a tulip-house. The village even had a café where waitresses wore head dresses modeled after the Secession building’s gold-leaf dome and, as a further jab to the Secession, served only “luke-warm coffee”. Women wore flower and vegetable patterned costumes based on drawings by Koloman Moser and Joseph Engelhardt, while others simply expressed their ‘secessionist’ nature with hand-made hats made from coloured, folded paper. [xiii] In all 150,000 people passed through by the second day and papers like the the Neue Freie Press claimed the ‘Secessionist Village’ had so many visitors by the second day, there was only standing room.
The prevalence of Secession themed cartoons in magazines and the Prater festival shows how popular the Vienna Secession had become in such a short period. This is reflected in an article by journalist Ludwig Hevesi for the July 1899 issue of Ver Sacrum, just one month after the festival on the Prater. He writes: “In the last year, the whole of Vienna has become ‘Secessionist’…In old established circles, one tries to roll together the last remains of one’s youthful dough and put new life into it; those same things which only a couple of years ago were rejected as quite unacceptable now win prizes.” [xiv]
Years later, Moser also recounted how the Secession had become a craze and shops everywhere began to sell bad copies of secessionist work. “It had become a trend, an entire industry, the originals were imitated in a careless and tasteless fashion, and there we had in Vienna that ‘false Secession’ of which Bahr so rightly wanred us.” [xv] This insight explains the motivation of Hoffmann and Moser to found the company Wiener Werkstätte in 1903 in order to ‘reclaim’ the style by producing high-quality Secession-styles wares.
[i] Ann Taylor Allen, A Playful Judgement: The Social function of Satire & Society in Wilhelme Germany, Kadderatsche and Simplicissimus 1890-1914, 3.
[ii] Paul Hofmann, Viennese: Splendor, Twilight and Exile (New York, Anchor Books Press, 1988), p. 42
[iii] Hofmann, p.47
[iv] Jeremy Aynsley, Graphic Design in Germany: 1890–1945 (Los Angeles, University of California Press, 2000), p. 12
[v] Jeremy Aynsley, Design Change: Magazine for Domestic Interior, 1890-1930 (Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 46
[vi] Philip B. Meggs, Alston W. Purvis, Meggs’ History of Graphic Design (John Wiley & Sons, 2016), p. 239
[vii] Heather Hess, The Wiener Werkstätte and the Reform Impluse, pg. 116
[viii] Ver Sacrum, January 1898, 24.
[ix] Alfred Roller, Notes of the Secession meetings kept by Roller in personal notebooks. (Alfred Roller archive, Osterreischisches Theatre Museum, Vienna: AR6).
[x] Ann Taylor Allen, A Playful Judgement: The Social function of Satire & Society in Wilhelme Germany, Kadderatsche and Simplicissimus 1890-1914, p.3
[xi] Fritz Stern, The Politics of Cultural Despair: A study of the Rise of Germanic Ideology (Berkely, 1961) p. 142
[xii] Ann Taylor Allen, A Playful Judgement: The Social function of Satire & Society in Wilhelme Germany, Kadderatsche and Simplicissimus 1890-1914, p.1
[xiii] Wiener Salonblatt, Jahresübersicht, June 3, 1899
[xiv] Ludwig Hevesi, Zwei Jahre Secessio’, Ver Sacrum, II, (1899) p.7
[xv] Mein Werdegang, Velhagen und Klasings Monatsheft, 31, ii. (Oct. 1916) p.17
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© 2017, Roberto Rosenman