How the 19th century Austrian graphic artist Koloman Moser found himself at the origins of modern design
How the 19th century Austrian graphic artist Koloman Moser found himself at the origins of modern design

He hid his love for painting from his parents, taught the Archduke's children and ended up at the head of several associations that influenced modern design … Koloman Moser is perhaps the key figure in Austrian art of the early 20th century. A painter and graphic artist, illustrator and designer, today he is considered one of the most important representatives of the Austrian branch of the Art Nouveau style.

Works by Kolo Moser Illustrations by Koloman Moser

Koloman, or Kolo, Moser was born in 1869 in Vienna. The artist's father was the director of the gymnasium and dreamed that his son would become a respectable and wealthy person. Of course, Kolo is a direct path to businessmen! And so it happened that sixteen-year-old Moser went to enter the Academy of Fine Arts secretly from his parents. “I came, I saw, I did,” - this is how Moser could describe his appearance at the Academy.

Frieze of Moser

The father resigned himself to his choice, but supported his son for only a couple of years. He passed away in 1888, and his death would have been less of a tragedy if Koloman had not now been forced to seek funding on his own.

Painting by Koloman Moser

What could the son of the headmaster of the gymnasium do best? Draw, of course! This became a means for him to raise money for food and further education. So he begins to make illustrations for art magazines - in the future, this very occupation will bring him fame. Moser's first customers were fashion magazines and humorous weeklies. By the way, in the future he also had the opportunity to develop sketches of elegant women's outfits himself.

Illustrations by Koloman Moser Illustrations by Koloman Moser

One of his teachers recommended the gifted young man as a drawing teacher to Archduke Karl Ludwig, and for a year Moser visited his children at Wartholz Castle, teaching the basics of painting and drawing. At the same time - it was 1892 - he did not stop studying and joined the artistic association Siebener Club, which became a "sandbox" for most of the representatives of the Vienna Secession.

Vienna Secession building, architect Josef Olbrich Left - Koloman Moser's decor, the building of the Vienna Secession

Five years later, Koloman Moser joined the ranks of those artists who were acutely experiencing the crisis of the academic and decorative arts in Austria.

Illustration and sketch by Koloman Moser The work of Koloman Moser Works by Koloman Moser in the Steinhof Church

The birth of a new style became possible in many respects thanks to the architect and teacher Otto Wagner, who fostered a whole generation of Viennese Art Nouveau creators in his workshops. Unlike the masters of Belgian and French Art Nouveau, plastic and fluid, the Austrians preferred rigid, structured, square-like shapes, welcomed the industrial revolution with its new knowledge, technologies and materials.

Decorative panels in the style of the Viennese Secession Decorative panels in the style of the Viennese Secession

At the same time, young members of the Vienna House of Artists, dissatisfied with the diktat of academism with its sore historical themes, unite in a group called the Secession, which means a split.

Graphic by Koloman Moser

The final straw that made young Austrians feel not at all "ahead of the rest" was the exhibition of representatives of the Glasgow School, especially the work of Margaret MacDonald and Charles McIntosh with their synthetic solutions inspired by the Celtic Renaissance and Japanese art. A new world opened before Viennese artists, the fruits of which they did not fail to take advantage of.

Moser's works Works by Koloman Moser

In his youth, Moser gravitated towards Impressionism, then - Cezanneism, but the graphic nature of MacDonald's works and the dryness of the plastics of the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler determined his further artistic language.

Imitation of Hodler is noticeable here Painting by Koloman Moser

The head of the Vienna Secession was the artist Gustav Klimt, but Koloman Moser was among its founders and active figures. The association was engaged not only in the design of buildings, furniture and household items, but also published the magazine Ver Sacrum - "Sacred Spring".

Sketches for illustrations for Ver Sacrum magazine Early illustrations in Ver Sacrum Illustrations by Koloman Moser

For this magazine, Moser creates one and a half hundred graphic works, ranging from still quite academic engravings to stylized, geometrized images, where human faces in a rigid rhythm turn into patterns, the hair of the virgins form strict frames, and the profiles become more and more severe, like those of the ancient Nordic goddesses.

Illustrations by Koloman Moser Illustrations by Koloman Moser Illustrations by Koloman Moser

During the years of the Secession's existence, Moser travels a lot, visiting museums and exhibitions, communicating with colleagues in the workshop and learning from experience. He is engaged in the design of furniture, including for his own atelier.

Illustrations with pattern elements A pattern developed by Moser A pattern developed by Moser

In 1902, he nevertheless fulfills his father's dream and organizes, in collaboration with the designer Joseph Hoffmann and the entrepreneur Fritz Werndorfer, his own enterprise - the Vienna Workshops.

Furniture in a square style Furniture in a square style

The Vienna Workshops are an alliance of artists, craftsmen and industrialists for the creation of aesthetic and high-quality household items. Moser and Hoffman play the role of consultants on the artistic and aesthetic properties of objects at the enterprise and make many sketches themselves - furniture, fabrics, jewelry, toys …

Armchair designed by Moser Household items designed by Moser

The motto of the workshops was “It's better to work ten days on one thing than to do ten things in one day” - therefore both the cost and the quality of their products were very high. In 1905, a happy event happened in the life of Koloman Moser - he found a family and a home, where he lived until his death. Dita Mautner, the daughter of an Austrian industrialist, became his chosen one, sons Karl and Dietrich were born with a difference of three years.

Illustrations by Koloman Moser

Now Moser felt much more independent - including financially. By this time, the ideas of the Vienna Workshops for Moser had already outlived their usefulness, disagreements with colleagues had accumulated, so he broke with the enterprise and decided to devote himself to painting.

Illustration by Koloman Moser

However, as an industrial designer, he continued to work - the apartment where he settled with his wife was furnished with furniture created by him - strict, geometric, with emphasized material properties, all according to the precepts of the "square style".

Illustrations by Koloman Moser

Parting with the Secession as a group and leaving the Vienna workshops did not mean a break with the friends of a stormy youth. Moser took an active part in exhibitions organized by representatives of the Secession. Moser created costumes and sets for the theater, drew postage stamps and postcards, and became the author of the new 100-kronor bill.

Illustration by Koloman Moser

In 1918, Moser died of throat cancer. Having lived only fifty years, he left a bright mark both in art and in the history of the development of design.

Text: Sofia Egorova.

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