1903 : Here lies in peace Ver Sacrum

The Viennese Secession soon had its own statutes but more importantly a mouth piece with the official magazine of the Vienna Secession Ver Sacrum (Latin for “sacred spring”), which was published from 1898 to 1903. It took its name possibly from either one of these two sources: Some art historians think that it was inspired by an old Roman ritual, dedicated to their gods, meant to celebrate the foundation of a new township while others assume that the name was borrowed from Ludwig Uhland’s poem Der Weihefrühling (The Sacred Spring). Artists from the Secession contributed to the magazine along with popular local writers and other foreign artists.

The magazine, under the directorship of Wilhelm List, had a print run of five years (1898-1903) and had a limited publication of 300 copies per issue. In the first two years the magazine was published monthly, then bimonthly in 1901. One of the most prolific contributors was Klimt, who regularly wrote articles for Ver Sacrum. The publication was highly regarded – from a literary and artistic point of view – and had a high influence on Austrian and foreign artists.

Hermann Bahr penned the most important principle of the Secession: “We want art that is not a slave to foreign influences but at the same time is neither afraid nor hateful of them.”

Koloman Moser, Poster design for the “First Grand Art Exhibition” of the Viennese Secession, 1897.
Watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil, metal colour on tracing linen, 78.5 x 60.5 cm.
Leopold Museum , Vienna.

Despite all the praise there were also problems with the magazine. One of the issues was confiscated by a district attorney because it “abrasively violated the sense of shame with its depiction of nudity and thus created public outrage”. Klimt responded to these charges that he did not want to deal with boorish people and that it was more important to him that there were people who liked the drawing. He was referring to his private patronage, his clients from the ranks of the Viennese upper class.

In the course of five years 70 issues were published, which had a purely didactic role and were often dedicated to one specific topic per issue. For example, one special issue was dedicated to Jan Toorop, whose symbolic picture language was a great influence on Klimt. Another complete issue was dedicated to Khnopff-reproductions while the November issue of 1899 was an essay written by Belgian poet Emile Verhaeren about the oeuvre of the Flemish painter Theo van Rysselberghe.

Ver Sacrum propagated the idea of holistic art, which stated that all art needs to form a synthesis and can thus be appreciated by everyone: the poor and the rich, the powerful and the powerless. The content varied between essays about art theory and practical, visual examples. Often the issues contained original prints. The magazine appeared roughly at the same time as another important magazine that was published beyond the Alps, in Munich, and was called Die Jugend (The Youth). The Munich magazine marked the beginning of the local Jugendstil-movement and was essentially the inspiration for their name. In 1903, Ver Sacrum and discontinued due to a lack of subscribers.

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