BEFORE THE WORLD WENT TO WAR: GLIMPSES FROM THE WOLFSONIAN-FIU LIBRARY COLLECTION

This past week we entertained a number of visitors in our library interested in materials produced in the period before and just after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. Last Thursday, two VIP visitors arrived to converse with Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi and see a presentation of materials relating to the art, politics, and culture of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in its twilight years. Dr. Harsanyi is an ethnic Hungarian from Romania, is fluent in numerous languages, and an expert on the history and culture of Eastern Europe. Here is Dr. Harsanyi’s report of that visit:

Last week the library was visited by Mr. Devrin D. Weiss, a collector from Washington DC, and his friend, Raul Rodriguez, from Coral Gables.  Given the interest shown by our distinguished guests for artifacts and materials originating from the Austro-Hungarian Empire before its demise at the end of the First World War, a display of representative holdings from that period was set up for our visitors’ viewing.

The emblematic figure for the second half of the nineteenth century in Central Europe was Emperor Franz Joseph I.  His long reign (1848-1916) has reached landmark status attained only by few monarchs, and Vienna celebrated the venerable emperor’s fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries with much pomp and circumstance.  The library has a few reminders of these moments:

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The old Habsburg national anthem also glorified the Emperor (like most anthems of monarchical states), as it can be seen in the English translation printed on a silk advertisement for Zira Cigarettes.  This advertisement is one of a series of silk patches that present the flags of various countries of the world.  Zara Cigarettes issued this silk during the early 1910s.  Each pack of Zara cigarettes had a coupon enclosed.  Once 25 coupons were collected, they could be redeemed for a collection of novelty silks.

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“The Eastern Land” ruled over by the Vienna-based monarchs included a mosaic of nations with various cultural identities and political goals.  The 24-volume “Kronprinzenwerk” was the last huge attempt to equally portray all nations of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Suggested in 1883 by Crown Prince Rudolf of Habsburg, the encyclopedia describes “The Austro-Hungarian monarchy in speech and writing,” the crown lands, nations, landscapes, and regions of the monarchy. It was published in German and Hungarian. The library at the Wolfsonian holds the seven volumes dealing with Hungary.

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Our guests also had the opportunity to browse through several issues of the periodical Ver sacrum [Sacred Spring], which promoted artists associated with the Vienna secession movement, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and Koloman Moser (1868-1918) being prominent among them.

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In 1903, Koloman Moser, together with Josef Hoffmann (1870-1956), founded of the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops), a production community of visual artists, bringing together architects, artists and designers.  Our library has a substantial number of postcards illustrated by the artists associated with this creative community.  Among the signatures one may recognize the names of Egon Schiele (1890-1918) and Mela Koehler (1885-1960):

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Another series of postcards produced by the Wiener Werkstätte show various views of the Austrian capital city:

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On its twenty-fifth anniversary (1928) of its existence, the Wiener Werkstätte published a beautiful book including its members’ representative achievements in the fields of decorative arts (lighting, pottery, metal work, glass, textiles, jewelry).  Its orange and black molded sculptural relief papier-maché boards were designed by Vally Wieselthier (1895-1945) and Gudrun Baudisch (1907-1982). This album is considered a landmark in twentieth century book design

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 The following evening, the Wolfsonian library hosted an after hours Private Salon celebrating the hundred year anniversary of the founding of the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1914. The President and Creative Branding Consultant of AIGA attended the event along with a couple of dozen design professionals and graphic art enthusiasts. In the library foyer, the guests had the chance to see Wonders Never Cease, an exhibition of rare Panama Canal materials curated by Sharf Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn. 

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Drawing largely on materials from the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, the exhibit celebrates the centennial anniversary of the completion of that monumental undertaking the same year.

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Moving into the library’s main reading room, our guests were treated to a display of materials all published in 1914. 

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Baron Hans Henning Voight (1887-1969), a self-taught artist more popularly known under his pseudonym, first reached a popular audience when the British publishing house John Lane published a book of Forty-three Drawings by “Alastair”. Influenced by the work of English artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) and the so-called “Decadent movement” in art and literature of the late nineteenth century, Alastair’s illustrations focus obsessively on the “perverse and sinister.” The illustration below was inspired by the famous opera, Carmen. 

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 Even as Alastair’s drawings carried the fin de siècle ethos into the twentieth-century, other artists in England in 1914 were interested in making a more emphatic break with the past. Wyndham Lewis (1882-1957) and Edward Wadsworth (1889-1949), for example, broke away from the Omega Workshops to found the short-lived Rebel Art Centre and Vorticist movement. Their manifesto Blast published in 1914 included works inspired by Cubism and Futurism.

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Many Vorticists and other English avant-garde artists broke with the Italian Futurists and that movement’s outspoken spokesman, F. T. Marinetti, in June 1914. That same month, Lewis, Wadsworth and other “anti-Futurists” jeered and booed Marinetti while he was reading from his manifesto and reciting from his newly published Zang Tumb Tuuum–a book of free verse poetry capturing the sounds of the battle of Adrianople, accompanied by drumming by the “last remaining English Futurist” C. R. W. Nevinson (1889-1946).

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Even at home in Italy, the arrogance of the Futurists incited not only imitators but detractors and satirists. Parodying the title of the Futurist periodical Lacerba, the movement’s critics published their own rivista, Acerba, lampooning the pompous pronouncements and artistic pretensions of Marinetti, et al.  

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 While some Italians were lampooning Lacerba and the Futurists, others ignored their influence altogether. The Italian periodical L’Eroica carried on the earlier symbolist and Art Nouveau traditions in art and poetry in 1914.

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Also on display for our visitors was a ticket stub for an international exhibition of Secessionist art in Rome in 1914.

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 Meanwhile in France, Georges Goursat (1863-1934), who had already won renown as one of the most famous caricaturist of the Belle Époque, continued to publish his scathing social and political cartoons under the pseudonym, Sem. His Le Vrai & le faux chic [True and false chic] published in 1914 lampooned the latest female fashions, comparing the styles of clothing to the likenesses of praying mantises and other insects.

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Once the war broke out, Sem, Paul Iribe (1883-1935), and other patriotic French artists lent their talents to the war effort, publishing caricatures of German Emperor Wilhelm II and the Crown Prince in the popular periodical, Le Mot.

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German cartoonists also jumped on the nationalist bandwagon as soon as war was declared, contributing illustrations to the Kriegs-album der Lustige Blätter that ridiculed English, Russian, and French enemy leaders and lauded the heroism of their own troops and leaders.

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~ by "The Chief" on August 29, 2014.

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