AESTHETICA / Secession Building


Vienna, Austria


Joseph Maria Olbrich




In April 1897, several Austrian artists – including Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich – founded the Vienna Secession. This movement was formed to protest what these artists perceived as overly conservative views in the city’s leading fine arts academy and exhibition center.

In keeping with this theme, the movement was multi-genre and multi-style, featuring painters, sculptors and architects who each employed varying influences in their work. The predominant theme was to reject rigorous academic diktats and free art from historical tradition. As the inscription on the outer façade reads: Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit (“To every time its art. To art its freedom.”).

Despite the lack of adherence to a single style, the movement is commonly associated with Art Nouveau, which was popular across Europe at the turn of the century and drew inspiration from natural forms and structures. The Secession Building was erected as a permanent exhibition space for members’ and other artists’ works. Olbrich was inspired by neoclassical architecture and, in keeping with Art Nouveau, used a leaf motif to decorate the building and its iconic dome. Though set on fire at the end of WWII, the building has been refurbished in its original style and currently serves as an exhibition space for modern and contemporary art.


The Secession Building, crowned by a golden orb of 3,000 gilt laurel leaves, looks less like a museum and more like a temple. In fact, I thought it was one until I recognized the word “kunst” (“art”) on the façade. Inside, this impression only grows, particularly when you walk into the open, high-ceilinged room which constitutes the main exhibition space. It is obvious, in every corner of this building, that those who built it had an uncommon reverence for the power of art. Standing in the main hall, I feel filled with gratitude for their works, and this comes out whispered like a prayer.

Photo: Vienna, Austria / June 2016

BONUS: The Beethoven Frieze

In the basement of the Secession Building, in a hushed, white-walled room, you will find the Beethoven Frieze, a series of breathtaking paintings by Gustav Klimt. Painted in 1901 for the 14th Secessionist exhibition – dedicated to Beethoven – the frieze is 7 feet high and 112 feet long. Klimt originally painted the frieze directly on the walls of the exhibition hall, but the paintings were preserved and later installed years later in the basement for public viewings. The paintings, glittering with gold leaf, depict the search for happiness in a world filled with evil and moral failings. The story ends, naturally, with the discovery of joy as exemplified by the arts. 

Photo: Vienna, Austria / June 2016

Secession Building website

See also:

Austria Dossier

And . . .

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