Hard to imagine photography as art-free these days. Yet it was not always so. The Albertina Modern looks at the period around 1900 in Vienna through the lens of pictorialism: the movement to give photography a similar standing to fine art.
- Evocative photos of a time and cause
- Many photos echo painting styles
- Runs Feb 3 – April 23, 2023
- See also:
Photo art around 1900
(Heinrich Kühn, Der Sonnenschirm, 1912; autochrome; press image courtesy of and © ALBERTINA, Wien)
Cultural and/or intellectual endeavour saw an explosion of creativity in Vienna around 1900. Exhibitions about this Wiener Moderne era inevitably tend to focus on art (cough, the Secession) and design (cough, the Wiener Werkstätte).
As such, the Albertina Modern fills a gap with an exhibition on pictorialism, a movement that treated the camera as canvas and sought to give photography its place in a landscape of artistic innovation and progress.
Pictorialist groups sprang up around the world (e.g. the Linked Ring in the UK), promoting the art influence in, for example, the aesthetics of what is seen through the lens.
For many members, pictorialism meant treating the photo much like a painting; the photographs (and particularly photographic production processes) might create impressionist, expressionist or secessionist outcomes.
Given the times, Vienna inevitably had its pictorialist practitioners too, who participated in an international network of similarly-minded groups and individuals. They also shared intellectual space with the progressive art emerging through, for example, Klimt and contemporaries.
As a movement, pictorialism petered out after the 1920s, but the exhibition offers insights into the work produced by its adherents. Given the costs of early photography, these practitioners included many wealthy amateurs.
(In 1896, for example, Baron Albert Rothschild gave an informal talk on colour technologies to the Wiener Camera Klub artistic association of amateur photographers.)
The exhibition begins with works of early UK photographers from the 1840s to 1870s, whose photos acted as catalysts for pictorialism. It then goes on to introduce various aspects of the movement’s development.
(Rudolf Koppitz, Bewegungsstudie, 1926; Gummidruck; press image courtesy of and © ALBERTINA, Wien, Dauerleihgabe der Höheren Graphischen Bundes-Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt)
We discover eerie resemblances to painted art. You’d swear Robert von Stockert’s Still Life of Flowers, for example, was a watercolour.
But visual effects are but one aspect. The art within pictorialism also found expression through modernist approaches to motifs and the framing of subjects.
We see this, for example, in works by US pictorialists, such as in Alfred Stieglitz’s famous The Steerage. Or in stylistic changes to portrait photographs, where natural poses, artistic lighting and minimalist backgrounds replace the stilted portraits familiar from earlier eras.
Enjoy photographs by the likes of Heinrich Kühn, one of the three members of the short-lived Wiener Kleeblatt association of artists (which has been described as a kind of photographic equivalent to the Secession).
Or Anton Josef Trcka, who also painted; he was much admired by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele and his photos of both make an appearance. The admiration seems to have worked both ways: Portrait Study by Trcka from 1912/1913 feels very Klimt-like in its execution.
Or Rudolf Koppitz, whose 1926 Bewegungsstudie (translation: a study in movement) photograph features in the exhibition and even appears in the display of iconic photos from around the world at the newly-opened parliament building.
Dates, tickets & tips
Enjoy this excerpt from photographic art history from February 3rd to April 23rd, 2023. Any ticket from or for the Albertina Modern includes access to the exhibition.
Pictorialism is the Albertina Modern’s only exhibition until Warhol to Hirst begins later in February.
Photography is just one of many areas touched by the innovations of the Wiener Moderne. Top locations in Vienna for a deeper dive into that era include Upper Belvedere (the permanent art exhibition), the MAK (notably design), and the Leopold Museum (mostly painting and design).
And for more historical photography, consider a trip to Westlicht, which has a small camera museum within.
How to get to the exhibition
Follow the suggestions on the main Albertina Modern page.
Address: Karlsplatz 5, 1010 Vienna
(Article icon courtesy of the Met Museum.)