Take a Time Capsule with me to Vienna!
Updated: Jun 7, 2022
Three, Two, One ... Blast-off!! 🚀 Have you ever thought about the following? If you could enter a time capsule and return to some period of the past, then WHERE would you want to land, WHEN, and most importantly, WHY? What is it about that place and specific time that you find appealing? Sure there will always be negatives that beset past eras, like cruel despots, insufferable tuberculosis, rampant syphilis, lack of I-phones, and such. But for the sake of this discussion, let's consider the positives! What period are you fascinated by and what environment would you want to insert YOURSELF into?
Obviously, I have thought about this and will share with you where I would go, when, and why. I would want MY time capsule to land in Vienna, Austria around the turn of the 20th c., specifically to be able to participate in the active 'Salon Life' of the city. Those were the last decades of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So, what was the 'salon life' of Europe like during that time, particularly in Vienna, but also vibrant in other cosmopolitan cultural centers, like Paris and Berlin? Salons were essentially small, private, intimate gatherings of a diverse mix of artists and cultured minds that offered a forum for the exchange of creative and new ideas. Participants typically included visual artists, like painters and sculptors, theatrical artists, like actors, actresses, and dancers, musical artists, like composers, opera divas, and musicians, philosophers, poets, authors, librettists, historians, even scientists, and the like. Salons were truly a DELUGE OF THE HUMANITIES! They would be held at the homes of various socialites in the city on a regular basis. The gathered would enjoy delicious foods and quality wines and spirits; while participants intermittently provided impromptu entertainment. Salonnières provided an atmosphere in which artists and intelligentsia could socialize in comfort and discuss the ideas of the day. To me, that sounds like heaven! The salon concept originated in Italy with the Renaissance during the 16th c. but flourished through France in the 17th and 18th c. during the Enlightenment, and quickly spread throughout Europe, to include central and eastern Europe. Salon life was vibrant and at its peak during the latter half of the 1800s to the very early 1900s, particularly in Vienna.
At about 1850, the fortress-like defense walls encircling Vienna came down and in its place construction of palaces and mansions boomed, forming the currently known Ringstrasse (shown in the photo below). At that time, the upwardly striving bourgeoisie gained the opportunity to purchase lots and erect splendid palaces. Some of those Ringstrasse palaces have since been incorporated into public establishments, while others have remained private. Many can still be identified and some even visited in Vienna today. With the establishment of the Ringstrasse, came an explosion of immigration to Vienna from across the continent resulting in a conglomeration of Middle Europe's most talented minds. Immersing themselves in both art and culture was a way for the new immigrants to easily assimilate into Viennese society. They immersed themselves in art and culture at salons that were held in those various palaces.
I read a lot about salons as I was researching Gustav Klimt, a Viennese painter who was an avid salon-goer. He was THE artist of that time! Many of the women whom he painted during his career were daughters of affluent entrepreneurs, or patrons, or socialites that he knew from the salons. They all sought his commission. One such portrait is of Adele Bloch-Bauer, his 'Lady In Gold', shown below.
Other examples are of art patron Serena Lederer and Klimt's socialite sister-in-law, Emilie Flöge. Many of Klimt's works can be viewed today in Vienna at the Secession Building, the Belvedere, and the Burgtheater.
A much sought-after salon in Vienna hosted by a young journalist, novelist, and art critic named Berta Zuckerkandl, welcomed artists and intellectuals and actually promulgated the initial discussions that resulted in the Secession. The Secession was the group of expressionist maverick artists that verged from the mainstream "state-sponsored art", to take liberties to fully express themselves. They ended up opening their own Art Nouveau building, called the Secession Building (shown in the photo below) in 1898, to exhibit their unrestricted, "free-thinking" art, away from the traditional neo-classic expectations. Berta's salon was a magnet for those fascinated by the latest trends in psychology, politics, and art. It hosted frequent visitors like playwright Arthur Schnitzler, sculptor Auguste Rodin, painter Gustave Klimt, composers Gustav Mahler and Johannes Strauss II, psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, to name a few. What gave salons gravitas was the fact that at a time prior to mass media, salons were indispensable for the spread of new and bright ideas. Many successful salonnières, all of whom were female, were able to exert significant influence on both political and artistic affairs. This gave intelligent, progressive women a voice at a time when they couldn't openly get involved in such matters. (Of course, I love that!)
Other well-known individuals that frequented the various Viennese salons were banker and entrepreneur Baron Rothschild, composer Johannes Brahms, author Mark Twain, journalist and zionist Theodor Herzl, and bacteriologist August Wasserman. Add to this list Viennese bourgeois such as prima ballerinas, opera divas, leading scientists, and physicians. In the end, it was clearly an amalgam of bright, interesting, creative, and innovative people who collaboratively circulated intellectual thought and propelled fresh ideas. For ME, this would have been such a fun and exciting group of individuals to "mix with." The idea of so many bright minds under one roof, bouncing ideas and theories off each other, is something I relish. I would have longed for an invitation to such a dynamic salon. Unfortunately in 2020 in America, we lack such forums and venues which is why I would want to blast MYSELF to THAT past at that exhilarating time!
I would LOVE to hear feedback on where YOU would go, when, and why? I hope you leave the plan for YOUR time capsule in the comments below.