From Potemkin City to the estrangement of vision: baroque modernity in Austria, before and after 1918

Matthew Rampley

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The artistic and cultural life of Austria after World War I has often been presented in a gloomy light. As one contributor to a recent multivolume history of Austrian art commented, “the era between the two world wars is for long periods a time of indecision and fragmentation, of stagnation and loss of orientation … the 20 years of the First Republic of 1918–1938 did not provide a unified or convincing image.” For many this sense of disorientation and stagnation is symbolized poignantly by the deaths in 1918 of three leading creative figures of the modern period, Otto Wagner, Gustav Klimt, and Egon Schiele, two of whom succumbed to the influenza epidemic of that year. According to this view, war not only led to the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy (and a dramatic political caesura), it also caused or, at the very least coincided with, a profound interruption to artistic life and brought Vienna's cultural preeminence in central Europe to an end. The inhabitants of the newly constituted Austrian Republic were forced to contend with significant challenges as to how they might relate to the recent past. On the one hand, some—including, most famously, Stefan Zweig—sought refuge in a twilight world of nostalgic memory; others, such as Adolf Loos, used the events of 1918 as the opportunity to advance a distinctively modernist agenda that sought to create maximum distance from the Habsburg monarchy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-187
Number of pages21
JournalAustrian History Yearbook
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016


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