Klimt and Hoffmann: Artists and Friends

Josef HoffmannAustrian National Library

Gustav Klimt, the painter, and Josef Hoffmann, the architect, were connected by a deep friendship and mutual appreciation of one another's art.

Station Stadtpark (1899)Austrian National Library

Secession and Exhibition Projects

When the architect Josef Hoffmann worked in Otto Wagner's studio in 1896—where he helped develop the streetcar system—he developed close friendships with painters, architects, and sculptors. During this time, his friendship with Gustav Klimt, who was eight years his senior, most likely deepened.

14th exhibition at the Vienna Secession (1902) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Due to the discontentment of some artists with the exhibition policy at the Vienna Künstlerhaus, the Vienna Secession was founded in 1897, with Klimt as its first president. Hoffmann also became a member. Their common interest in surface and spatial design, the effects of which they were able to test in various ways in the Secession, united the painter and the architect straight away. The large number of clients they shared also highlighted their artistic similarities.

Secession (c. 1900)Austrian National Library

Their mutual friend, Josef Maria Olbrich, was entrusted with designing an exhibition building for the Secession.

12th exhibition of the The Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession (1901)Austrian National Library

As such active members, Klimt and Hoffmann were responsible for the success of the artists' association. They helped to design the "Ver Sacrum" magazine, and the exhibitions with their accompanying catalogs and posters.

Hall I, 17th exhibition of the The Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession (1903)Austrian National Library

Their design principles were based on flatness, linearity, and respect for the individual work. This interplay between surface and space was carried over to the Secession building. The most progressive examples of this new "surface art" concept are present in every exhibition designed by Hoffmann and Koloman Moser.

14th exhibition of the Vienna Secession. Right Side Hall (1902)Austrian National Library

The 14th exhibition of the Secession—the so-called "Beethoven Exhibition" of 1902—was impressively designed by Hoffmann as artistic director. In this exhibition, the idea of the secessionist "Gesamtkunstwerk" came into its own.

14th exhibition of the The Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession (1902)Austrian National Library

The 3 exhibition halls showed works from 21 different artists. Hoffmann's idea was to create a temple dedicated to Beethoven by using as many techniques and materials as possible.

The left side hall with the Beethoven frieze by Gustav Klimt during the 14th exhibition of the Vienna Secession (1902) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

The highlight of the exhibition was Klimt's "Beethovenfries" (Beethoven Frieze).

Group of artists with Gustav Klimt (c. 1898)Austrian National Library

The Vienna Secession had been interested in arts and crafts ever since its first exhibition. The success of the Beethoven Exhibition project from a Gesamtkunstwerk point of view encouraged Hoffmann to found the "Wiener Werkstätte" (Vienna Workshops) in 1903 (one year later) along with Moser and the industrialist, Fritz Wärndorfer. The Wiener Werkstätte company dedicated itself to the production of high-quality hand-crafted products.

Klimt sat on the company's supervisory board and took an active interest in its development.

Kunstschau 1908 (1908)Austrian National Library

In 1905, however, Klimt resigned from the Secession due to what he saw as negative developments within the artists' association. Many other artists followed suit and were henceforth called the "Klimt Group."
In 1907, some of the artists joined forces with their friends to form a committee to plan their own major exhibition: the Kunstschau (Art Show). Klimt was elected as president.

Kunstschau 1908 (1908)Austrian National Library

However, Vienna did not have a suitable building for the exhibition, so it was decided they would build one of their own according to plans drawn by Hoffmann. Hoffmann and Klimt once again saw an opportunity to create a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). On a 70,000 ft² area, on which the Vienna Konzerthaus (Concert Hall), and the ice skating club are located today, he built pavilions, connecting corridors, open spaces for terraced gardens, a coffee house, and a garden theater.

Insight The Kunstschau 1908 (1908) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Moser was commissioned with the design of the Klimt Room to exhibit a total of 16 works by the painter. Hoffmann took charge of the space that presented the Wiener Werkstätte.

Lothringerstraße 20, Vienna: Area before the construction of the concert hall (1911) by Atelier Lechner Müller WienAustrian National Library

The 1908 Kunstschau ended in November. The following year, an extensive exhibition took place once again in Hoffmann's building complex: the 1909 "Internationale Kunstschau" (International Art Show) with Klimt as president. Foreign artists such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin, and many more exhibited. Subsequently, on November 4, 1909, the exhibition building was demolished.

The Austrian Pavilion at the International Exhibition of Art in Rome 1911 (1911)Austrian National Library

In the decade that followed, Klimt and Hoffmann continued to collaborate on exhibition projects, such as the International Exhibition of Art (1911) in Rome.

International Art Exhibition in Rome, 1911. Austrian Pavillon (1911)Austrian National Library

Hoffmann built the pavilion and was responsible for its interior decoration.

International Art Exhibition in Rome, 1911. Austrian Pavillon (1911)Austrian National Library

The exhibition's Austrian department was led by the then director of the "Moderne Galerie" (Modern Gallery, now Belvedere), Friedrich Dörnhöffer, while Hoffmann was responsible for the arrangement of the artwork.

Klimt's artwork was located in Room 5, where the "Portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein" was exhibited alongside "The Park," and numerous other works.

Painting "Death and Life" (1910/1911) by Gustav Klimt (after 1910) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Klimt received the first prize for his painting "Tod und Leben" (Death and Life).

Palais Stoclet, exterior viewAustrian National Library

Major Project: The Palais Stoclet (Stoclet Palace)

The most impressive outcome of the collaboration between the two artists was the Palais Stoclet in Brussels. It is the last surviving complete example of a Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) Gesamtkunstwerk, pervaded by all the arts.

Palais Stoclet, exterior viewAustrian National Library

The banker, Adolphe Stoclet, and his wife, Suzanne, spared no expense or effort. They commissioned Hoffmann to design their private home as a Gesamtkunstwerk in collaboration with the Wiener Werkstätte. The work took place from 1905 to 1911.

Sanatorium Purkersdorf (1926) by Verlag P. Ledermann, ViennaAustrian National Library

Shortly before that, from 1904 through 1905, Hoffmann had used similarly hard, rectangular shapes to great effect at the Sanatorium Purkersdorf. At the Palais Stoclet, he once again proved that this new style of construction, without historical influence, could create a monumental and magnificent impression.

Palais Stoclet, dining roomAustrian National Library

The central dining room was designed entirely by Hoffmann and Klimt. The facade of the strictly longitudinal rectangular space was decorated with the mosaic "Der Ritter" (The Knight) by Klimt. For the long walls Klimt designed the "Lebensbaum" (Tree of Life) frieze, which is one of the main works from his "golden period". For it, he used precious materials, including marble and enamel, and precious metals, such as gold.

Josef Hoffmann at the music room in the palace Stoclet in Brussels (1955) by FobelpresseAustrian National Library

Since the palace is still owned by the family and is not open to the public, there are hardly any photographs of the interior of the building.

Wien 8, Josefstädter Straße 21 (around 1910) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Common Friendships, Connections, and Differences

The close contact between the two artists is also reflected in the fact that Hoffmann designed Klimt's studio on Josefstädterstraße as well as the one on Feldmühlgasse.

Wien 13, Feldmühlgasse 11 (1918) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Unlike the foyer on Josefstädterstraße, Hoffmann completely decorated the room in Feldmühlgasse. In this room, each object had its place and was subordinated to a spatial concept. The furniture and the carpet were both designed by Hoffmann. Klimt's collection of Japanese paintings was fixed to the walls in narrow black frames according to a precise schema.

Emilie Flöge in a Reform Dress (1909) by Madame d'Ora, AtelierAustrian National Library

Hoffman was also well acquainted with Klimt's close friend, the progressive fashion designer, Emilie Flöge.

Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge (around 1909) by H. BöhlerAustrian National Library

Klimt developed a special friendship with Flöge after his brother Ernst's marriage to her sister Helene. Whether the two also had a love affair remains unclear to this day. She also had a friendly relationship with Hoffmann and was very interested in the Wiener Werkstätte. She wore brooches designed by Hoffmann—which she occasionally received from Klimt as a gift—and had her fashion salon furnished by the architect.

Gustav Klimt (c. 1910) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Klimt and Hoffmann were very different in their appearance and their characters: the painter spoke Viennese dialect and did not regard his outward appearance as important, until the invention of the "reformed dress." The Flöge salon dress, however, became his trademark.

Josef HoffmannAustrian National Library

In contrast to Klimt, Hoffmann was always well dressed. He saw merit in a neat and elegant appearance. His manners were polite and he was always impeccably behaved.

Group of artists in the garden of Villa Moll by Fritz WärndorferAustrian National Library

Klimt and Hoffmann worked tirelessly on their projects. But outside of work, they enjoyed social gatherings among friends in cafes, gardens, and private salons.

Gustav Klimt, Martha Mautner-Markhof and Editha Mautner-MarkhofAustrian National Library

They grew close, faithful friendships with their collectors, and generously supported young talent.

Gustav Klimt at the Meierei Tivoli in Vienna (c. 1914)Austrian National Library

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