Room setting for the Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession

M188 Room setting for the Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession

Address: Friedrichstrasse, Vienna, Austria
Date: 1900
Client: Vienna Secession
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

Background

This room designed by Mackintosh was the tenth and concluding exhibit in the Eighth Exhibition of the Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Wiener Secession (Association of Visual Artists of Austria Vienna Secession) in November–December 1900. This was the first Secession exhibition to show furniture and applied art. 1 The preface to the exhibition catalogue stated explicitly that 'we are not showing interiors ... but single pieces as samples of the various designers' achievements'. 2 Displayed in Saal X (Hall 10) were 33 items – furniture, metalwork, glass, textiles, paintings and gesso panels – by Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, James Herbert McNair and Frances Macdonald. 3

Colour photograph of plan of exhibition building, Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession catalogue, p. 1

The participation of the two couples, also referred to as The Four, appears to have come about following the visit to Glasgow in June 1900 of friend and supporter of Secession artists, Fritz Waerndorfer. He reported by telegram to his friend, Josef Hoffmann, Secession vice-president, that he thought Mackintosh 'phenomenally interesting' and that 'Mackintosh and his bride' would send 'splendid things' to Vienna. 4

In July 1900 Mackintosh received a formal invitation from the Secession president, painter Carl Moll, to exhibit work at the forthcoming exhibition and to travel to Vienna at the Secession's expense. 5 In his acceptance letter, Mackintosh wrote, 'We are delighted with the idea of having a room to show our own work in your distinguished exhibition, and we are charmed and flattered by the fact that the invitation comes from a group of artists we have always much admired and which has always given us the greatest pleasure. In accepting your invitation I (speaking for all of us) must thank you sincerely for what we feel to be a great distinction and most coveted honour.' 6

The Mackintoshes travelled to Vienna in mid-October 1900 in order to supervise the unpacking of their work and to assemble their room in preparation for the exhibition opening on 3 November. They appear to have stayed in the city into December, but not until the close of the exhibition on 27 December; letters from Mackintosh to Secession members expressing gratitude for hospitality in Vienna are dated 17 December. 7

Design

The interior of the 1897–8 Secession building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich, had moveable partition walls to provide for a variety of exhibition layouts. The exhibition was curated by Hoffmann, who designed a large central hall with nine smaller spaces around it. The Scottish artists were allocated the square Saal X (Hall 10) at the E. corner of the building. It was to the right of the main entrance, but could only be accessed via the very small and narrow Hall 9, to its N.W. The published photographs of the room show that it was apparently lit naturally by two windows in the N.E. wall. 8

As stated in the preface to the exhibition catalogue, this was not a room setting of the kind Mackintosh would later design for exhibitions in Dresden and Berlin. It was a simple intervention comparable to the preceding nine rooms. A deep, white-painted frieze rail ran around the room with white-painted panelling below and white walls and ceiling above. The panelling was divided into compartments by attenuated engaged columns with cyma recta-profile capitals. Electric lamps hung from long wires. Two large gesso panels intended for the White Dining Room at Miss Cranston's Lunch and Tea Rooms, Ingram Street, Glasgow, hung above the frieze rail on the N.W. and S.E. walls. The decorative scheme recalled the Mackintoshes' recently completed drawing room in their flat at 120 Mains Street, Glasgow. Among the furniture and objects arranged for display were items from the Mackintoshes' home as well as work by the McNairs. 9

The Scottish Room was a commercial success. Works sold during the exhibition included a writing cabinet, a clock, a chair, a window and sconces by Mackintosh; a bed-curtain and two fingerplates by Margaret; and a 'children's frieze', smoking cabinet and a medal by the McNairs. 10 Once back in Glasgow, Margaret wrote to Franz Hancke to enquire into the identity of the purchaser of her bed-curtain, because she wished 'to tell him or her how to take the applique off when it requires cleaning. It was specially constructed so this could be done.' 11 Mackintosh received a cheque in mid-January 1901 in payment for the items sold. The amount is not known. 12

B/W photograph of N. wall of Hall 10, Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession, 1900 B/W photograph of S. wall of Hall 10, Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession, 1900B/W photograph of S.W. corner of Hall 10, Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession, 1900

Reception

The Scots' room attracted considerable attention: there were numerous reviews in German and Austrian decorative arts journals and local newspapers, though there were apparently none in English. 13 Several of the reviews remarked on the cohesive style of the Mackintoshes' and McNairs' work. It was mainly the unsettling symbolist imagery in The Four's work, rather than Mackintosh's design for the room or its furniture, that drew press interest and criticism. 14

In its review of the exhibition on its opening day, 3 November 1900, the anonymous Neues Wiener Tagblatt critic considered that 'among the most curious exhibits which modern art has created must be counted the tea room by Dr Mackintosh and his wife'; the objects displayed in it were described as 'all things of a distinctive taste'. 15

On 4 November, the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung dedicated its 'Feuilleton' section to an in-depth review of the exhibition, written by one of the Secession's greatest supporters, Berta Zuckerkandl. Following a discussion of Viennese work, she turned to the visiting artists:

The guests whom the Viennese artists have arguably taken most to their hearts are the Scots. Despite the difference in temperaments a certain linear affinity, a connection of colour ideals, cannot be denied. Here from the pages of the Studio, there from Ver Sacrum, the artists developed knowledge of their kinship. They aspired to artistic debate. The Scots appear distant from the English Arts and Crafts, curious and initially strange. They achieve a mystic, puzzling art. Their decorative motifs recall the mysteriously troubling imagery of India. They animate the inanimate. The only tone in this solemn stillness of spiritual imagery is colour. Intense and yet full of subtlety, they seek a marriage with the glimmer and glow of precious stones ...

In the face of the great unity of their means of expression it is difficult to decide whether the four people who comprise the applied arts secession in Scotland are coincidentally united by the same ideals or whether one of them was the powerful leader, who announced a new doctrine, and the others became his proselytes ...

Charles Mackintosh is an architect and devotes only his leisure to applied art. He has built churches, schools and hotels, which, like all his other designs, pay homage to very particular laws. His reputation is based on the decoration of restaurants which have become well known under the name of "Missis Cremstowns Tearoom" [sic]. Here for the first time he displays his decorative methods writ large.

Zuckerkandl explained that Mackintosh had stated 'A room must be a picture', and concluded her analysis: 'the white room in the exhibition, with its subtle flecks of colour, the peculiar jewel-like embroidery, the serious motionless lines of the friezes, truly is a picture, perhaps puzzling to many of us but nonetheless effusing the authenticity of a distinct vision of beauty.' 16

The following day in the Wiener Abendpost, critic Armin Friedmann described the white-painted room with 'melancholic Scottish chairs' and a 'ghostly cosiness' flowing from the 'spiritual wire drawing' of the gesso panels. He echoed Zuckerkandl's sentiment that identifying authorship in the 'Scottish room' was difficult; the work of one could just as easily have been created by another. In a medicalised idiom used by some writers and artists in Vienna at the time, he described the 'two artist-couples' as 'acrobats of the nerves who have brought the newest tricks with them. What appears on first glance to be utterly primitive, thoroughly unadorned, is the desired over-refinement, and it vibrates with countless private stimuli. In this consulting room, Maeterlinck and Stephane Mallarmé could gossip with Huysmans and Peter Altenberg in hushed tones about the latest things.' 17

Another substantial review featured in the Neue Freie Presse on 10 November. Art and literature critic Franz Servaes described the Mackintoshes and McNairs as a 'four-leafed clover of artists highly curious yet perfectly in tune with one another ... the Mackintosh couple have assembled for us a very remarkable room.' He noted that from the 'most humble or even meagre materials the Mackintoshes, in contrast with fellow British exhibitor Charles Robert Ashbee, manage to create something highly personal and curious; their only shared traits are an almost religious austerity and solemn gravity, only with Ashbee one thinks of richly decorated Anglican churches, while with Mackintosh one is reminded of ascetic, pious and mystic sects.' Servaes pointed out the preference for the 'arid, thin and attenuated combined with a noticeable tendency towards the bizarre and almost ecstatic' that is 'peculiar to the Glasgow artists. And associated with that [is] a sensuality, which sparsely, yet bright and longingly blazes upwards like oppressed souls aspiring to freedom. However these more concealed psychological traits are completely subordinate to a subtle aesthetic instinct and an extremely sensitive taste.'

Turning to the room itself, he continued: 'If one enters the room an angelic white is quite the dominant tone. And standing out in this white, as if sketched with shaded lines, is exceedingly slender furniture, grey-black throughout and [alien] in its outlines.' The gesso panels were considered 'fantastical'. Servaes concluded by admitting that while the Mackintosh room was very much 'out on a limb and certainly not without extravagance, it has been created by free and honest artistic minds', and 'although our personal taste [shows] a very different, even opposing direction, sincere esteem for it cannot be denied.' 18

At the beginning of December, the Wiener Rundschau reported that:

the Mackintosh room is the most advanced yet of all experiments in the field of modern interior decoration. This is proven by, among other things, the irritated bewilderment of the public and their journalistic spokesmen. Here all extremes are reconciled, America and the Bukovina are united. Their antipathy towards Mackintosh arises from the accurate feeling of being threatened at their essence ... Modern spirituality ... comes into their homes and threatens [their] comfort and as a result there are complaints about spooky rooms and such like. There is a Christian atmosphere in this interior; the chairs could have belonged to a Francis of Assisi. The decorative element is not frowned upon here, instead it is used in an internalised and organic way. The inner truth of these works ... seems overwhelming. The severity, purity, simplicity and zeal of these designs reveal the opposition between the lively creation of atmosphere and that factitious banality, which in certain allegedly modern work has already bored us for years.' 19

In the extensive review in the Vienna journal Kunst und Kunsthandwerk, written by another great supporter of the Secession, Ludwig Hevesi, the furnishing and decoration of the white room were briefly described and again attention was called to the curious imagery and the 'preference for ghost- and mask-like human forms'. He continued: 'The capricious element, known in Vienna as "Gschnas", plays a powerful role, so that the room is given the character of a private tutorial for those certain hours of exceptional, euphoric spirit. But behind the practical joke lies a peculiar ability which means that the special artistic character does not go astray.' 20

Writing in Innendekoration, W. Fred described the panelled white room as being 'papered with planks'. Like other reviewers, he highlighted the unsettling imagery and mood of the room; however he also called attention to the quality of the furniture, for example, describing the 'splendid' narrow cheval mirror as 'very gracefully designed' and, with its many small drawers, 'immensely practical'. Fred also considered Talwin Morris and Macdonald 'to be the best metalwork artists in Great Britain at this time'. 21

Photographs of the room appeared in Ver Sacrum, the Secession's journal, in late 1900. No text other than captions accompanied the images. 22 Photographs and prints of additional work by the Mackintoshes, and two items by Frances McNair, were published in 1901. These are referred to in Mackintosh's correspondence with Carl Moll. 23

Bertha Zuckerkandl also reviewed the exhibition for the Munich art journal Kunst für Alle. The article focussed largely on fine art but included closing paragraphs on applied arts in which the Scottish room was mentioned first. She commented: 'In the applied arts too symbolism flows through the decorative line. The room created by the Scottish artists Mackintosh and McNair shows the poetic composition of a highly individual ideal of beauty. Mystic colour moods, stylised forms, something ceremonial, something higher awakens in the onlooker notions of an albeit very curious but nevertheless interesting and deeply felt spiritual design.' 24

The Scottish Room was the central point of discussion in the review published in Dekorative Kunst. This included a text written by the journal's London correspondent 'M' – probably Hermann Muthesius – on the developing iconography of the line and stylised human bodies in the work of the Glasgow artists, and its presentation at the exhibition. 'M's' contribution concluded, 'The majority of the work has been made by Mackintosh and Marg. Macdonald together. Their style manifests a strange accord, a harmony, which is certainly auspicious for the bond of marriage into which they just recently entered.' The Wiener Rundschau review was reproduced within the article. 25

Photographs of the Scottish Room published in Dekorative Kunst were reproduced the following year in Russian journal Mir Iskusstva (World of Art). 26

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Notes:

1: 'Feuilleton. Die erste Kunstgewerbe-Ausstellung der Secession. I. Möbel', Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 November 1900, pp. 2–3.

2: Vienna, Secession Archive: 'Katalog der VIII Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession', 1900; 'Die VIII. Ausstellung der Wiener "Secession" ', Dekorative Kunst, 11, 1901, p. 171.

3: Vienna, Secession Archive: 'Katalog der VIII Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession', 1900, pp. 35–6.

4: Vienna, Secession Archive: telegram from Fritz Waerndorfer to Josef Hoffmann, 27 June 1900, Inv. Nr. 43.4.6.10786. In December 1902, Waerndorfer wrote to Hoffmann 'you sent me to Glasgow', which perhaps refers to this apparently initial visit in June 1900. Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Kunstsammlung und Archiv, Fritz Waerndorfer to Josef Hoffmann, 23 December 1902, Inv. Nr. 3996. Vienna, Secession Archive: 'Katalog der VIII Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession', 1900, p.10. Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald married on 22 August 1900.

5: Mackintosh told Hermann Muthesius about this invitation. Berlin, Werkbundarchiv, Museum der Dinge: Hermann Muthesius Estate, letter from Mackintosh to Hermann Muthesius, 12 July 1900.

6: Vienna, Secession Archive: letter from Mackintosh to Carl Moll, 28 July 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6008a and 25.3.1.6008b.

7: Mackintosh's letter to Franz Hancke, secretary of the Secession technical committee and member of its editorial and selection committee, gives details of their travel arrangements and the transport of their work to Vienna. Vienna, Secession Archive: letter from Mackintosh to Franz Hancke, 5 October 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6010; letter from Mackintosh to Carl Moll, 17 December 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6011; letter from Mackintosh to Franz Hancke, 17 December 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6012; 'Die Eröffnung der achten Sessions-Ausstellung', Neue Freie Presse, 3 November 1900, evening edn, p. 2; Ver Sacrum, 4, 1901, p. 58.

8: See photographs in Innendekoration, 12, 1901, p 36–7; Vienna, Secession Archive: Inv. 'Katalog der VIII Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession', 1900, p. 1.

9: On the furniture and decoration, see Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, Moffat, Dumfriesshire: Cameron & Hollis, 4th edn, 2009, p. 107–9, and Pamela Robertson, ed., Doves and Dreams: The Art of Frances Macdonald and James Herbert McNair, Aldershot, Hants & Burlington, Vermont: Lund Humphries, 2006. Mackintosh wrote to Hermann Muthesius about working together with Margaret on the two gesso panels for Miss Cranston. Berlin, Werkbundarchiv, Museum der Dinge: Hermann Muthesius Estate, letter from Mackintosh to Muthesius, 12 July 1900.

10: Ver Sacrum, 4, 1901, p. 61; Vienna, Secession Archive: 'Katalog der VIII Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession', 1900, pp. 35–6.

11: Vienna, Secession Archive: letter from Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh to Franz Hancke, c. December 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6013.

12: Vienna, Secession Archive: letter from Mackintosh to Franz Hancke, 18 January 1901, Inv. Nr. 25.3.2.6015.

13: In 1901, the Studio featured an article on Josef Hoffmann discussing his work at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris and at several Secession exhibitions, but did not include a review or even mention of the Eighth Exhibition. An image from the Secession's seventh exhibition is among the illustrations. Studio, 22, 1901, pp. 261–7.

14: Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, Moffat, Dumfriesshire: Cameron & Hollis, 4th edn, 2009, p. 108.

15: Neues Wiener Tagblatt, 3 November 1900, p. 6. It is not clear why this reviewer believed the Scottish room represented a tea room, unless the writer had conflated the exhibition room and the interiors for which the gesso panels had been designed. No other contemporary references to it as such have been found. However, tea rooms were referred to in reviews of the Scottish room: Mackintosh's reputation as a decorator of tea rooms was mentioned in the Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung and the Wiener Abendpost explained that the two large gesso panels were destined for a tea house in Glasgow. See reviews below.

16: 'Feuilleton. Die erste Kunstgewerbe-Ausstellung der Secession. I. Möbel', Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung, 4 November 1900, p. 3.

17: The article is signed off with only 'a. fr.': however the vocabulary and tone of the article strongly suggest Armin Friedmann as its author. 'Feuilleton. Achte Ausstellung der "Secession". (Kunstgewerbe: Mobiliar)', Wiener Abendpost, 5 November 1900, pp. 1–2.

18: The article is signed off with 'F. S-s': Franz Servaes is known to have written for the Neue Freie Presse at the time of the Secession's Eighth Exhibition, hence the attribution. 'Feuilleton. Kunst im Handwerk (Secession)', Neue Freie Presse, 10 November 1900, p. 2.

19: Wiener Rundschau, 1 December 1900, p. 417.

20: 'VIII. Secession Ausstellung', Kunst und Kunsthandwerk, 1900, pp. 469–70. 'Gschnas' is a Viennese term for a fancy-dress ball held during Carnival.

21: 'Die Wiener Sezession: VIII. Ausstellung', Innendekoration, 12, 1901, p. 35. A summary of this article appeared in Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, including an identical account of the Scottish room. 'Die Wiener Kunst-Ausstellungen (Sezession – Oesterreichisches Museum)', Deutsche Kunst und Dekoration, 7, 1900–1, pp. 267–8.

22: Ver Sacrum, 3, 1900, pp. 384–5.

23: Ver Sacrum, 4, 1901, pp. 393–408. Vienna, Secession Archive: letter from Mackintosh to Carl Moll, 28 July 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6008a and 25.3.1.6008b; letter from Mackintosh to Carl Moll, 17 December 1900, Inv. Nr. 25.3.1.6011.

24: Bertha Zuckerkandl, 'Die achte Ausstellung der Wiener Secession', Kunst für Alle, 16, 1900–1, p. 165. Like Die Kunst and Dekorative Kunst, Kunst für Alle was published by the Bruckmann family. Mackintosh designed a dining room in Munich for Hugo Bruckmann in 1898. See Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, Moffat, Dumfriesshire: Cameron & Hollis, 4th edn, 2009, pp. 47–9.

25: 'Die VIII. Ausstellung der Wiener "Secession" ', Dekorative Kunst, 11, 1901, pp. 171–83.

26: Mir Iskusstva, 1902, no. 4, pp. 220–3.