Focus on Viennese Modernism at reopened Leopold Museum

Beethoven veneration around 1900, J.M. Auchentaller’s music room and Emil Pirchan’s inexhaustible design pluralism 

Having reopened on 8th December following a temporary closure during the second lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Leopold Museum is presenting not one but two new exhibitions on Viennese Modernism: “Inspirational Beethoven. A Symphony in Pictures from Vienna 1900” and “Emil Pirchan. Visual Revolution”. With these exhibitions, featuring a total of around 300 objects, the Leopold Museum’s Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger is extending the ambit of the large-scale permanent presentation “Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism”, emphasizing the Secessionists’ aspirations for renewal in keeping with the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or universal work of art.

“The exhibition ‘Emil Pirchan. Visual Revolution’ illustrates the inexhaustible diversity of this eminent protagonist of European Modernism with more than 200 objects – among them items of furniture, stage set and costume designs, architectural models, posters, book illustrations and examples of marbled paper created using the artist’s own technique. In keeping with the tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk, Emil Pirchan designed residential buildings, interior decorations, everyday objects and graphic products.

In the new focus exhibition “Inspirational Beethoven. A Symphony in Pictures from Vienna 1900”, the reconstruction of Josef Maria Auchentaller’s unique pictorial program for the Beethoven music room of Villa Scheid interacts with works by artists of the Vienna Secession, including Gustav Klimt, Alfred Roller and Josef Hoffmann. The presentation highlights how Beethoven became a source of inspiration and varied point of reference to exponents of Viennese Modernism fighting for renewal and recognition in fin-de-siècle visual arts.”

Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Director of the Leopold Museum

Emil Pirchan – universal artist of Modernism

The exhibition “Emil Pirchan. Visual Revolution” is the first comprehensive retrospective of the work of Emil Pirchan (1884–1957) in Austria. It affords insights into the varied oeuvre of the artist who was successful primarily as a graphic artist and pioneer of Expressionist stage design. Known also to scholars of theater studies and further appreciated by experts on Viennese Modernism as an innovative poster artist, the exhibition at the Leopold Museum is now presenting the whole range of his oeuvre to a broad public for the first time.
“It is only Emil Pirchan’s early work that lends a facet to the cosmos of ‘Vienna around 1900’. In the 1910s, Pirchan set entirely new standards in the field of advertising art in Munich, and in the 1920s decisively shaped Expressionist theater in Berlin. The rediscovery of this tireless itinerant between disciplines and cultural eras is thus no nostalgic endeavor, for in times demanding flexibility, his cultural practice appears highly current.”

Ivan Ristić, curator, Leopold Museum

The exhibition affords the opportunity to rediscover an almost forgotten universal artist. As a commercial artist, Pirchan produced more than 1,500 printed works, as a theater artist he was responsible for some 350 stage sets and numerous costume designs, while he was further active as a designer, architect, author and university lecturer. The Brno-born multi-talent was able to develop his creativity in the cultural centers Munich, Berlin, Prague and Vienna. In his versatility and holistic approach, Emil Pirchan can readily be compared to the most established exponents of Viennese Modernist design, such as Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann – who was Pirchan’s second cousin – and Dagobert Peche.

Only a few years ago, Beat Steffan, the artist’s grandson, sifted through the boxes containing Pirchan’s rich legacy that had been left in his parents’ attic in Zurich. The rediscovery of this treasure prompted a reappraisal of Pirchan’s estate which allowed for a comprehensive publication and two exhibitions – a 2019 show at the Museum Folkwang in Essen, which was the first presentation of Pirchan’s work in Germany, as well as the current exhibition at the Leopold Museum in Vienna.

Following an in-depth education at Otto Wagner’s special class for architecture at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, Pirchan moved to Munich in 1908. There, he designed the house of his friend, the collector and artist Viktor Oppenheimer, around 1910 and in 1913 founded an art school for commercial art and set design. Pirchan significantly raised his profile through frequent exhibitions of his works. His appointment as head of set design and costumes to the Munich National Theater was followed by his move to the German metropolis Berlin. The renowned director Leopold Jessner secured Pirchan in 1921 for the association of Berlin State Theaters, where the artist had his ultimate breakthrough. Working as head of set design for the Berlin State Opera and the State Theater on Gendarmenmarkt, he developed and perfected the stylized stage as well as the tiered stage known as “Jessner staircase” together with Leopold Jessner. In the 1930s Pirchan moved to Prague where he worked for the German Theater, before being appointed professor at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in 1936.

Conceived in cooperation with the Museum Folkwang in Essen, the impressively comprehensive exhibition at the Leopold Museum highlights the career stages and spheres of activity of an extraordinary artist.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as inspiration for a Gesamtkunstwerk

Marking the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven in December 2020, the Leopold Museum presents a focus exhibition within the permanent presentation “Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism”. The exhibition centers on Josef Maria Auchentaller’s imposing pictorial program for the music room of the villa belonging to the Viennese jewelry manufacturer Georg Adam Scheid. Consisting of five paintings measuring almost two-and-a-half meters in height with an overall length of around nine meters, Auchentaller drew inspiration for this work in 1898/99 from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, known as the Pastoral Symphony. The music room, which is emblematic for the multi-faceted veneration of Beethoven prevalent around 1900, has now been reconstructed for the first time in Austria, offering a spatial experience of this singular Gesamtkunstwerk in a dialogue with works by artists of the Vienna Secession.

“The genius cult surrounding Ludwig van Beethoven was detectable latest from his death in 1827; in Vienna around 1900, however, it became a special phenomenon with almost sacral features. Auchentaller’s fascination with Beethoven’s music is symbolic of the composer’s veneration by exponents of the Vienna Secession as a whole.”

Werner Telesko, curator, Austrian Academy of Sciences

This holds especially true for the 21 artists involved in the 14th Secession Exhibition, known as the Beethoven Exhibition, among them Gustav Klimt, Alfred Roller, Friedrich König, Max Klinger and Josef Hoffmann, who in 1902 acted as the Secession’s artistic director and invested the exhibition with the solemn atmosphere of an art temple. While Auchentaller’s diverse oeuvre is today considered exemplary for a variant of Jugendstil he shaped both during his time in Munich and as a member of the Vienna Secession, his work as a painter, graphic artist and jewelry designer was barely known up until his first comprehensive retrospective at the Leopold Museum in 2009.

“Auchentaller’s Jugendstil ensemble represents the first artistic realization of all movements of a Beethoven symphony. With the music room for the Viennese jewelry manufacturer Georg Adam Scheid, he created a Jugendstil Gesamtkunstwerk, an immersive spatial experience unique in the tradition of music rooms, which had its heyday around 1900.“
Dominik Papst, curator, Leopold Museum

Publication accompanying the Pirchan exhibition

The exhibition on Emil Pirchan is accompanied by a comprehensive monograph entitled “EMIL PIRCHAN. Universal Artist”, edited by Beat Steffan, with essays by René Grohnert, Kurt Ifkovits, Barbara Lesak, Jitka Ludvova, Christiane Mühlegger-Henhapel, Sonja Pisarik, Julia Preisker, Daniel Resch, Katja Sebald, Beat Steffan and Alexandra Steiner-Strauss, published with Nimbus Verlag and available at the Leopold Museum Shop.

Once more on display: Vienna 1900, Hundertwasser-Schiele, Ö1 Talent Grant Exhibition

Alongside the new exhibitions, the Leopold Museum further shows the permanent exhibition “Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism“, the successful presentation “Hundertwasser – Schiele. Imagine Tomorrow” as well as the exhibition of contemporary artists who are nominees and winners of the Austrian radio station Ö1’s talent grant.


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