In a recent wander through the Internet links, I landed on an article about early 20th century Vienna, one of my favorite history times (and time-traveling places I’d like to visit). In further wandering, based on newly viewed comments and ideas surfacing, I was struck by how significant Vienna’s impact has been on the rest of us and how the rest of the 20th century pushed her into a more obscure standing until recently. Though it is really 1905 in general that will be explored in this posting, here are my musings for the city and year.
To be considered: Though the political leadership in Europe was dominated by monarchies, the growing resentment in countries’ populations, from the educated elite, to the burgeoning middle classes, to the teaming lower class workers, all generated various opposing political models and that each of these groups wanted change of a different kind. Yet, that change was not going to accommodate the continued control of a monarch. Vienna was perhaps the least prepared to take on these forces, though that is arguable when compared to the other monarchies at the time: Russia and the Romanovs, the House of Savoy in Italy, the mostly German DNA English Victoria, the Hohenzollern of Germany.
Isn’t it interesting that the elite minds in Vienna at the time were among the world’s leaders in discussions of economic models, aesthetics, psychology, philosophy, music, literature, film and politics. Vienna was perhaps the fifth or sixth largest city in the world at the time and the melting pot capital of an empire, not a country. There were more than a dozen languages used in the Austrian military, though commands were made in German. Ideas brought up among the intellectuals in Vienna were germinated in Berlin, or London, or Paris and visa versa. The world was burgeoning with the fruits of the late 19th century, with the appeal for historicism, looking backwards and fostering a sentimentality held by the ruling class, while the new technology was pressuring the individuals in the upper class and society as a whole to take on a new personae. Note that electricity, petroleum and the use of steel frames in buildings are factors for change that the 1890s is not at all fully aware of or of how much change will occur in short order.
In the decade leading up to 1900, the battery, roll film and the accompanying motion picture projector, the radio, submarine, X-rays and the fountain pen, to name a few, were invented and pushing their users into thoughts, actions and places they could barely understand at the time. By 1914, all of these will be used, plus the improvement upon the airplane and other weapons of mass destruction, in the Great War. The world will be altered irrevocably to foster new thoughts, new politics. new boundaries, new inventions and new problems.
While one of the most disconcerting international incidents of 1905 was the war between
Russia and Japan (a war the czar was prodded into by his advisors as they felt it would dampen workers’ demands at home and foster nationalism-and what an easy enemy to take on…those little yellow monkeys, the Japs). If the leaders and their citizens of the European countries had been doing some history reading, they would have known that Japan was a fully-fledged member of their modern world, even though they had been held back forcefully for over 250 years by their own monarchical system and had only ‘come out’ in the last three decades. What a startling change and startling realization to the Russians that the help given the Japanese in this short time by the Germans and English, and most recently by McKinley, the American president, had brought them technology and knowledge they were learning to handle well and that their world, too, was about to change in ways that would take them in competing directions in their own society in the early 20th century. It’s interesting, too, to note that Teddy Roosevelt, who will take over from the assassinated McKinley, will broker the peace deal between Japan and Russia in Portsmouth, and that he will bring America into the world of imperialism that it is still trying to address to this day.
Just before the year 1905, Russia’s leaders were attacking their Jews in horrendous pogroms that forced millions to immigrate to many countries to the west, including to the 2nd Bezirk of Wien. The half-hearted attempt at reform for the serfs in mid-century Russia had actually worsened their lot (though at least freeing some to leave the country for a factory job where they were treated as ‘rent workers’ and simply a tool of the owner to be discarded when ineffective) and the politics, art, literature and economics of Russia was trying to make sense of these changes throughout the latter half of the century.
In 1904 the newly born son and fifth child of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov is gloriously welcomed into the world to join his four beautiful sisters, making all things hopeful for the Romanovs. The truth is, Alexi, the baby crown prince, had hemophilia and this will allow Rasputin in the royal door. The Japanese will crush the meager Russian efforts on the Korean peninsula, setting up a conflict with which Kim Jong-Un is still connected today. It will also send the Russian society into a spiral that will force action upon the czar he despises, but to which he grudgingly acquiesces. He will grant some limited democracy because his country is coming apart by the end of 1905, but he abhors democratic principles as do all royalists throughout Europe, and he undercuts it and fights with it for years until the Duma (the Russian Parliament) installs a republic in 1917 during the Great War. This fledgling republic will fall to Lenin and his politics and propaganda, much of which will be disseminated by Eisenstein and his fabulous films.
By 1905, Franz Josef in Vienna had been ruling for fifty-seven years, all of which were used to strengthen archaic practices, to look backwards and to resist the inevitable. He, too, had been forced into some meager political concessions, had been forced to accept the weakening of his power through the K und K arrangement with Hungary, had been forced to accept some interference from a parliament, had witnessed the suicide of his only son, Rudolph, who was the true modernizing force for Austria and its place in a viable future, and had only recently suffered through the death of Sissy, his beautiful, estranged Kaiserin, who had been assassinated by a radical just a few years before.
In 1905, Franz Josef continued living a life looking backwards, while Adolf Loos was building one of the first modern architectural wonders just across the street from his bedroom in the Hofburg on the Michaelerplatz. Its construction will foster the use of those steel beams in the building of skyscrapers in Chicago and Manhattan that continue to this day.
It’s a fascinating side note to think about the coffee culture in 1905 and to ponder what it would have been like to venture into the many kaffeehäuser, each with their own ambience and clientele, the likes of which will shortly see Hitler, Lenin, Redl, Klimt, Freud, Wittgenstein, Mahler and many others frequenting their smokey rooms and eating their wonderful pastries. Alfred Redl is an individual worth pondering at this time, as he was a lowly military leader who was brilliant, facile with languages and indispensable to the military brass. He made a name for himself and became the head of the counter-intelligence for Austria just after 1905. Yet, he was gay and the Russians knew this. He was blackmailed by them and for years gave intelligence to the Russians about all manner of plans and infrastructure within Austria’s military, receiving ample monetary rewards that were delivered to a hotel in Vienna. He was only found out in 1913, when the Austrian military leadership and nobility, to save its own face and to follow military protocol, allowed Redl to shoot himself. They neglected to ask him what he hold told the Russians, though, and it is still undetermined how much he factored in losing the First World War for Austria. It’s a great story, read and film, though. Hungarian director, Szabo (part of his wonderful trilogy) and Klaus Maria Brandauer as Colonel Redl.
My favorite thoughts of 1905, though, center of the art world in Vienna at this time. It is the world of secession for the avant garde artists in this city. The germination going on in Europe among perhaps a few hundred artists will impact the rest of the world of the 20th century. The Viennese group were so frustrated with the staid and outdated thoughts of the established academy on the Schillerplatz (the very same one Hitler will soon visit and will suffer frustration, too, but not of the same kind as the Secessionists) that they build a competing school and statement to modernity just across the road on the newly constructed and covered Vienna River area, called the Haus der Wiener Sezession. The great artistic minds of the time in Vienna brought their work there and synthesized their ideas. It was this building that Lauder renovated when he was Ambassador to Vienna in 1986. It was also in Vienna, a city Lauder had visited as a child, in which he would make one of his most important personal connections. He, too, fell in love with its art. Imagine that in 1905 Klimt was deep into the portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. As was Klimt’s want, he was probably also into a relationship with Adele.
Link to Vienna Secession
During Lauder’s time in Vienna he collected art and brought it out of the country through the diplomatic pouch, much to the chagrin of the Austrian authorities. He will eventually purchase the portrait of Ms. Bloch-Bauer some hundred years after it was painted and use it as the central feature in this Neue Gallerie in Manhattan.
Imagining the conversations these artists had in the Sezession or in a nearby coffee house is intriguing. They surely were buzzing about what was going on in Berlin and Paris, especially the work that was happening between Picasso and Braque, though that discussion would have to wait until 1907 when Cubism shook their world (though it really on hit the general public in 1916 at its exhibition at which many viewers thought it obscene). While 1905 saw the young Picasso in his Rose Period, it was the painting in 1905 by Cezanne that shook Picasso and Braque’s worlds, though Picasso’s envy of Matisse was also influential. It was the seed the would germinate into Cubism, leading to what some art historians consider the most influential painting of the 20th century, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Picasso with use the title name Avignon, not as a tip to the beautiful southern French city, but to his own youthful transgression of a street by the same name in Barcelona where a brothel was prominent.
I think that is enough diversion for today. I also think that I will have to return to 1905 again, as its germs are still growing…