Magazine article The Spectator

Lost and Found

Magazine article The Spectator

Lost and Found

Article excerpt

Josef Maria Auchentaller (1865-1945): A Secessionist on the Borders of the Empire

Palazzo Attems-Petzenstein, Gorizia, Italy, until 30 September

The story that unfolds in this fascinating exhibition is a strange and poignant one. The Viennese-born Auchentaller was a contributor to the Munich Secession of 1892 and a key player in the Vienna Secession of 1897, two of the most important fin-desiècle revolts against the conservatism of the artistic establishment. Along with Klimt, he was one of the editors of Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), the official voice of the Vienna Secession, and in 1901 an entire issue was devoted to Auchentaller's work in various media.

His life was long and artistically productive, but through a series of mishaps many of his works were lost. His huge 'Ode to Joy' frieze, companion to Klimt's 'Beethoven Frieze', now one of the main attractions at the Belvedere Gallery in Vienna, created for the celebrated 14th Secession exhibition in 1902, was lost without trace when the show was dismantled. The same fate was shared by a cycle of paintings for a Vienna theatre.

His classic Art Nouveau 'Beethovenzimmer' for his father-in-law's villa, for which he designed every detail from the doors and murals to the piano, lamps and stained-glass windows, now survives only in a few dispersed elements in private hands. A collection of canvases bound for a retrospective in Argentina during the 1920s also vanished en route.

But more survived than even experts on the Vienna Secession until recently believed.

An Austrian scholar, Vera Vogelsberger, who sadly died last year while still in her forties, tracked down an extraordinary archive of the artist's varied work conserved by his heirs in a village in the South Tyrol. Her discovery has made possible this revelatory show of 400 paintings, drawings, illustrations, posters, designs for textiles and jewelry (and actual pieces), which will travel on to Bolzano and then Vienna in 2009.

During the preparations for the exhibition, Raffaella Sgubin, director of Gorizia's Civic Museums, located and purchased in Camden Passage in Islington a fine silver and enamel Auchentaller buckle (the design for which appeared in Ver Sacrum), later erroneously attributed to Koloman Moser.

And it is hoped that as a result of this show more lost works will come to light.

On the day of the oft-reproduced group photograph of the Vienna Secessionists during the mounting of the 'Beethoven' event in 1902, Auchentaller was fatefully absent. He was in Grado supervising the construction of Pensione Fortino, a hotel designed by the Art Nouveau architect Julius Mayreder, with external frescoes and other features by the artist himself. …

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