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historical turning point: Paul Gauguin discovered it for himself in 1889, Edvard Munch experimented with it in 1896, and the young generation of artists in Vienna turned their attention to it around 1900: The SCHIRN exhibition on the color woodcut allows you to trace the new impulses that revived one of mankind’s oldest printing techniques. On display are works by important members of the Viennese Secession as well as some artists who have by now almost been forgotten. The traditional technique gives free rein to the imagination and contributed to the popularization of Modern art around the turn of the century.

Erwin Lang: Girl in red dress (Grete Wiesenthal), around 1904.

Bastion of the arts

Around 1900 the metropolis on the Danube would already have been able to make a reputation for itself based solely on its astounding number of coffee houses. What really secured the city’s fame, however, was the concentration of artistic and intellectual heavyweights who appeared to be drawn to these public workshops and viewed them as their adoptive homes.

Emil Orlik: Three Girls playing a Board Game, 1906/08.

Arthur Schnitzler, Sigmund Freud, Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Robert Musil are just a few of the protagonists who came in and out of the coffee houses. It was in their works that the full bloom of artistic trends from all over Europe unfolded. The “who’s who” could be found particularly in the sophisticated Café Landtmann, where Berta Zuckerkandl-Szeps hosted her salons. Gustav Klimt was regularly given the honor of an invitation and was introduced to Auguste Rodin by the hostess.

There is doubt, however, about whether or not “Vienna’s most elegant café” was Klimt’s preferred coffee house. As the embodiment of the so-called “Ringstraßenstil”, the Landtmann represented that very historicism against which Klimt and other founding members of the Secession issued an aesthetic challenge in April 1897: With the famous credo “To every age its art and to art its freedom”, the new movement turned away from the anachronistic art of the bourgeoisie. All aspects of life should be designed aesthetically as a “Gesamtkunstwerk”, they believed, and made accessible to a broad public.

Against this background, the color woodcut began to take off, so that by 1908 more than 40 artists were already working enthusiastically with it.

How swept away now are the final remains of the traditional copies and imitations, and the works of art have once again become that which they always were: newly created, born from the artist’s soul.

Ver Sacrum Journal 2, 1900, p. 21

A matter of opinion

In the seat of imperial-royal power that is Vienna, there is a seemingly unending series of impressive sights. And naturally the Viennese color woodcut was to pick up on these popular subjects. The artists’ great delight in experimentation, however, resulted not in conventional depictions, but rather in an abstract reduction of form, outline and color.

Carl Moll’s three-panel woodcut depicts Schloss Belvedere in winter. The observer’s view follows the alignment of the baroque statues towards the upper palace of this Viennese landmark. With the selection of this subject, the founding member of the Secession catered precisely to the public’s taste. The idyllically snow-covered park complex resonated thanks to the nascent winter sports industry, amongst other things. Invisible to the observer, behind it stretches the Lower Belvedere. It was at Carl Moll’s insistence that the Moderne Galerie was opened there in 1903, and it soon became established as an important exhibition venue for the Secessionists.

Fanny Zakucka chose a comparable subject in 1903 when she depicted the tree-lined avenues of the park at Schloss Schönbrunn. The baroque splendor with all its embellishment is perfectly hinted at as Zakucka breaks with the tradition of a representational presentation. The degree of abstraction is extremely advanced. Zakucka purposefully reduces the avenue to yellow and blue surfaces, which give rise to further green surfaces by means of overprinting. Surprisingly early on, this young woman’s art detaches from the visible world and translates it into compositions of color and form. In spite of her pioneering modernity, however, the young graphic artist was denied both financial success and the recognition of a broader public.

The fact that it took so long for this printing method to be rediscovered is probably not down to the small format alone. This blind spot in art history is primarily due to the attitude of Zakucka’s contemporaries, who derided the work of female artists. Although people respected her “sheer garishness”, her printing was long overlooked.

A revo­lutio­nary 

Czeschka-Schule: Pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905.

Updating a tradition

With enhanced significance and value, in the environment of the Secession, the Wiener Kunstschule and the Vienna Workshops, a technique that had been forgotten for centuries unexpectedly took off.

In the 19th century the woodcut was still seen as a means of informative image reporting up until photomechanic processes ultimately replaced it. As a widely distributed artistic medium, however, it was affordable to many. With the rediscovered technique of woodcutting, artists developed new subjects and extraordinary thematic variety.

What is a woodcut?

To create a woodcut, the artist uses sharp tools to carve the subject into a smoothed panel of wood – the printing block. Since a high-pressure process is involved here, the panel should be carved so that all the areas that are supposed to print remain uppermost. Everything else is therefore cut away from the wood. The result is a relief. The image could then be printed onto paper using the color-stained printing block either by hand or with a mechanical press.

One challenge of woodcutting was that the subject had to be cut into the printing block as a mirror image so that the print ultimately appeared the correct way round. It was possible to create up to 400 copies of a work with one printing block. Thus images could be reproduced in large quantities at low cost and disseminated beyond national borders.

The woodcut is one of the oldest reproduction techniques. As far back as the early 15th century the process was being used for the production of works of art, flyers and even entire books. Albrecht Dürer (who died in 1526) and in particular Lucas Cranach (who died in 1553) perfected this process by refining the lines. Most woodcuts from this time were designed for one-color prints only and were sometimes colored in by hand afterwards.

Working with wood is complicated. The material’s limitations challenge artists to attempt ever more types of image and form. Within the scope of the technique, the relationship between background design and foreground subject had to be defined anew. When designing the woodcut of his sleeping wife, Max Kurzweil used only three colors in total, with a large area simply left black. However, both areas can easily be distinguished from one another.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Three blue macaws, 1909.
Max Kurzweil: The artist’s wife (Martha Kurzweil, sleeping on a divan), 1902.
How does a woodcut work?

The Viennese artists carried out all the steps involved in woodcut printing themselves: They designed the subjects, carved them into the wood, dyed the printing block, for which several steps were often required, and printed the subject on paper single-handedly.

As early as the 15th century there was a desire to print woodcuts directly in color. To this end, the various parts of the printing block were laboriously stained afresh by hand for each stage.

One variant was the production of several printing panels for each subject – one for each color tone. The individual panels differed in their cut of the subject, as the distribution of the various color tones is not uniform within the finished image. All the colors layered on top of one another produce the complete image. The challenge with this method is the precise positioning of the individual printing blocks one after the other, without the contours shifting at all. The paper was even liable to warp with the individual drying processes.

hree printing panels with different surfaces together produce the color woodcut “Tiger head”. The more color nuances a woodcut displayed, the more laborious its production process, since each color required its own printing block. In order to reduce the number of printing panels to a minimum, some artists used enhanced contours as a design tool.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Tiger head, 1909.
Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Tiger head: printing block 1, grey plate; printing block 2, ochre plate, printing block 3, black plate, 1909.

The color woodcut “Tiger’s Head” is printed using a total of three different plates, each covering a different section on its raised surfaces. In this way, the grey plate is used to print the background and the tiger’s breast, the skin is printed using the ocher plate, the contours added with the black plate. The animation shows first the printing plates that have survived and then the color sections for which each accounts.


Czeschka-Schule: Pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905.

Dream destination Japan

European artists were fascinated by the Japanese aesthetic. The Secessionist Emil Orlik traveled in the Land of the Rising Sun between 1900 and 1904 in order to study color woodcuts in situ.

Compositional experiments between true-to-nature representation and abstract use of forms, with the typical interplay of black lines and exciting colored and empty spaces. Orlik used his newly gained knowledge of Japanese woodcuts in his own art and also taught it to his students from 1902 onwards.

Emil Orlik, Japanese pilgrims on the way to Mount Fuji, 1901.
Utagawa Kunisada: The actor Nakamura Fukusuke in the role of the famous Samurai Miyamoto Musashi in the play Ichimuraza in Edo, dated May 23, 1856.

In the Land of the Rising Sun

Around 1854 Japan gave up its policy of isolation. This transition triggered a wave of enthusiasm throughout Europe for Japanese culture, which had been cut off from the outside world for over 200 years and had therefore remained free of outside influences.

The enthusiasm of the “Southern barbarians”, which was just one of the names the Japanese gave European visitors, led to the development of a market for Japanese objects and art in the cultural centers of Europe. From a European perspective, a window on the Far East that had long been closed was now opened. The newly discovered Land of the Rising Sun was a source of great fascination and epitomized the exotic.

It was not only the artisanal sophistication of their Japanese fellow artists that impressed those in the art scene; the formal language also brought valuable impulses and prompted experimentation. Japonism seized Vienna.

With the sixth Secession exhibition in 1900, Vienna had reached the point where ancient Japanese art was arriving in the city. The exhibition gave the Viennese public access to 150 Japanese woodcuts for the first time. These “images of the flowing world”, as classic woodcuts were known in Japanese, showed everyday scenes from Japanese society in the Edo period, which stretched from 1603 to the opening up of the country in 1867.

Hand in hand

Emil Orlik demonstrates that the Japanese color woodcut developed as a joint production, with a division of labor between different individuals. Unlike in turn-of-the-century Vienna, in Japan the work of painting, woodcutting and printing was not all carried out by the same person.

A new era

Kolo-Moser-Schule: Three Birds – pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905.

he resistance of the wood panel and the bulkiness of the material mean that the formal language of woodcuts must always be a reduced one. A particular quality of the Viennese color woodcut, however, is the continual further development of the design. A good decade before German Expressionism discovered the woodcut and its qualities for itself, in Vienna prints were emerging of a surprising modernity given the early date of their development.

Carl Anton Reichel: Female nude study, 1909.

The body in the space

The female nude by Carl Anton Reichel sprawls cool and confident in the foreground of the image. The hard edges of the body’s shadow give the woman her form and clear black lines outline her contours. Her body forms a shadowless contrast with the two-dimensional space. It appears to hover. A simple geometric system of three axes divides the background into monochrome color fields, suggesting a perspective of height, length and breadth –an entire room emerges.

Abstract impression

Nora Exner achieves a similarly revolutionary simplification of the space with her illustration for design magazine “Die Fläche”. Without making use of black contour lines, she uses various monochrome surfaces to form an abstract staircase with a red carpet and a white dog, creating the illusion of three-dimensionality.

Nora Exner: Dog, reproduction from “Die Fläche” magazine (detail), 1905.
Ditha Moser: Calendar for the year 1910, Sunday.

There was no one overarching Secession style. As a consequence, the most varied of manifestations emerged among the artists of the Vienna color woodcut. The fundamental design elements included the dialog between fullness and emptiness, whilst true-to-life representation appears time and again in a clear reduction of form, and geometric forms create tension in their juxtaposition with organic shapes. From the numerous influences in Vienna, a harmonious formal language emerged, leading the way to Modernism.

The perfection of ornamentation

Most color woodcuts do not tell a story in the sense of actions, but rather depict subjects in a particular moment.

The Viennese art nouveau gave particular attention to ornamentation. Even as the magnificent buildings of the city’s Ringstraße were constructed in the 19th century, it was already playing an important role. The fact that it is incorporated as a design element in many woodcuts is hardly surprising. Thus Anton Eichinger’s “Till Eulenspiegel” stands before a decorative dark-blue patterned surface that is part of no particular space. Some images appear to consist of almost nothing but ornamentation, which was a subject of thorough criticism. Viennese architect Adolf Loos battled vehemently against ornamentation. He held the view that sprawling ornamentation, with its purely decorative effect, was a superfluous excess and a waste of resources.

Anton Eichinger: Till Eulenspiegel, around 1903.
Adolf Loos: “Ornament and Crime”

During the 1890s Adolf Loos traveled around the USA as a young architect, becoming familiar with an innovative form of construction as the first high-rises emerged. He knew the architect Louis H. Sullivan personally, who held the view that “form follows function” – the appearance of objects should be tailored purely towards the function they need to fulfil. Everything beyond this was superfluous, he believed. This was an attitude Loos also adopted, rejecting the artistic design of everyday objects. Back in Vienna he gave his famous presentation “Ornament and Crime”, in which he took the stance that ornamentation was a “plague” that bound humanity to a low stage of development, and that the absence thereof signified a higher level of civilization. For the good of humanity, Loos claimed, one had to free oneself from the “slavery of ornamentation”. With this view and his own creativity, Loos formed an extreme opposite standpoint to those in the Vienna Workshops who favored ornamentation. It is here that the origin of woodcut production lies.

Pop 1900

Marie Uchatius: Panther – pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905.

Viennese advertising

The reevaluation of the color woodcut in Vienna took place against the background of the contemporary enthusiasm for posters, advertising and illustrated books and newspapers. The demand for reproduced images was growing continuously.

Advertising found its way into the day-to-day life of the big cities. The impact of artistically designed advertisements offered huge potential for shop-owners, traders and entrepreneurs. Even in the first exhibition catalog of the Secession adverts promised, for example, “the best beauty product”, “a top-of-the-range precision bicycle” and “the best pencil you’ll ever find”.

The ideas of the arts and crafts schools brought them increasingly to the center of the avant-garde. In close cooperation with the Vienna Workshops, a production community of fine artists that had been established in 1903, the schools helped to expand the traditional concept of art to include the applied arts. The dividing lines between high and low, between fine art and craftsmanship were increasingly disappearing among the outcomes of modern image production. By serving everyday culture and advertising, the Viennese artists were able to reach a broad audience with their color woodcuts.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Smoking cricket, 1910.

Art to go

When hipsters were still known as “dandies”, it was perfectly acceptable to show them openly holding a lit cigarette. With just such a subject, Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel achieved the synthesis of fine art and advertising art. As an employee of the Vienna Workshops, he not only designed wallpapers, rugs and fabric patterns, but also postcards and advertising posters. His smoking cricket surprises with its timeless appearance: The execution in poster form anticipates the comic art or Pop culture of the 1960s.

Art magazines

A mouthpiece for the Vienna Secession existed for six years in the form of “Ver Sacrum” (meaning “Holy spring”). Renowned artists of the Vienna avant-garde designed the pages of the magazine. Literary figures from all over Europe wrote the articles. In this way, readers became familiar with the creativity of contemporary artists. Another journal, “Die graphischen Künste” (“The graphic arts”), was dedicated to artists working in print graphics, some of whom it promoted.

Both magazines occasionally included art prints. As originals, these were much appreciated by the broad readership – ultimately they represented affordable works of art.

0:00 min
Josef Hoffmann: The work program of the Vienna Workshops, 1904.

The magazine ‘Ver Sacrum’ is an appeal to the people’s appreciation of art for the stimulation, furtherance and dissemination of artistic life and cultural independence.

Ver Sacrum, 1898, S. 31.

ioneering: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” is the title of Paul Gauguin’s final painting, which was created in the founding year of the Secession, 1897. The Frenchman – alongside Edvard Munch, the pioneer of the color woodcut – would no doubt have accepted the breakthrough of Viennese artists in the direction of Modernism as an answer.
After this little foray, visit the SCHIRN to discover for yourself the independent means of artistic expression the color woodcut became within the space of a decade. Expressionism? Pop art? Street art? We are excited to see which associations come to the minds of you, our visitors.


Marie Uchatius: Birds – pattern, s.a.

Which one can only glean from the original

Lightness of points – the spraying technique

The artists of Vienna are impressive not only thanks to their thematic and stylistic diversity, but also their technical experimentation. In digital reproduction it is almost impossible to recreate the fine nuancing of color surfaces created using the stencil spraying technique. Here, color is dusted across a fine mesh using brushes. Within an area defined by stencils, the finest points gather on the substrate, forming a fine-grained, transparent surface. With soft color hues, subjects develop that assume form without the need for outlines.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Tennis player, 1905/1906, poss. 1903.
Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Lawn Tennis (also: Woman Playing Tennis, The Tennis Court), 1905/1906, poss. 1903.

The interplay of light and shade from the forest canopy over the scene may well call to mind Impressionism. The great many different-colored points merge into the surface and create a new color impression in the eye of the observer. This is suggestive not only of Jungnickel’s examination of contemporary theories on color perception, but also of the color light painting of the post-Impressionists. The creation of form by means of templates is one of mankind’s oldest printing techniques. Today it still enjoys great popularity in the stencils of street art.



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Erwin Lang: Mädchen in rotem Kleid (Grete Wiesenthal)/ Girl in a Red Dress (Grete Wiesenthal), um 1904. © Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Kunstsammlungen und Archiv.

Emil Orlik: Drei Mädchen beim Brettspiel/ Three Girls playing a Board Game, 1906/1908. © Norbert Miguletz.

Carl Moser: Die kleine Bretonin/ The Little Breton Girl, 1902. © Privatsammlung.

Carl Moll: Belvederegarten im Winter/ Belvedere Park in Winter, um 1903. © ALBERTINA, Wien.

Fanny Zakucka: Schönbrunn/ Schönbrunn, 1903. © ÖNB/ Wien 432000318-C.

Czeschka-Schule: Muster für ein Vorsatzpapier/ Pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905. © MAK – Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst / Gegenwartskunst.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Drei blaue Ara/ Three Blue Macaws, 1909. © ALBERTINA, Wien.

Maximilian Kurzweil: Die Gattin des Künstlers (Martha Kurzweil, auf einem Diwan schlafend)/ The Artist’s Wife Asleep on a Divan, 1902. © Secession, Wien.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Tigerkopf/ Head of a Tiger, 1909. © ALBERTINA, Wien.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Druckstöcke zum Tigerkopf: Druckstock 1, Schwarzplatte; Druckstock 2, Grauplatte, Druckstock 3, Ockerplatte/ Printing blocks Head of a Tiger: printing block 1, black plate; printing block 2, grey plate, printing block 3, ochre plate, 1909. © Norbert Miguletz.

Czeschka-Schule: Muster für ein Vorsatzpapier/ Pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905. © MAK – Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst/ Gegenwartskunst.

Emil Orlik: Japanische Pilger auf dem Weg zum Fujiyama/ Japanese Pilgrims on the Way to Mount Fuji, 1901. © Norbert Miguletz.

Utagawa Kunisada: Der Schauspieler Nakamura Fukusuke in der Rolle des berühmten Samurai Miyamoto Musahi in dem Theaterstück Ichimuraza in Edo/ The Actor Nakamura Fukusuke in the Role of the Famous Samurai Miyamoto Musahi in the Drama Ichimuraza in Edo, 1856. © Privatsammlung.

Emil Orlik: Der Maler/ The Painter, 1901. © Norbert Miguletz.

Emil Orlik: Der Holzschneider/ The Woodcutter, 1901. © Norbert Miguletz.

Emil Orlik: Der Drucker/ The Printer, 1901. © Norbert Miguletz.

Kolo-Moser-Schule: Drei Vögel – Muster für ein Vorsatzpapier/ Three Birds – pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905. © MAK – Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst / Gegenwartskunst.

Carl Anton Reichel: Weibliche Aktstudie/ Study of a female nude, 1909. © ALBERTINA, Wien.

Nora Exner: Hund/ Dog, ca. 1902/1903. © Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Kunstsammlungen und Archiv.

Ditha Moser: Kalender für das Jahr 1910/ Calendar for 1910, 1910. © MAK – Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst / Gegenwartskunst.

Anton Eichinger: Till Eulenspiegel/ Till Eulenspiegel, ca. 1903. © Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Kunstsammlungen und Archiv; Fotograf: Birgit und Peter Kainz, faksimile digital.

Marie Uchatius: Panther – Muster für ein Vorsatzpapier/ Panther – pattern for endpapers, ca. 1905. © MAK – Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst/ Gegenwartskunst.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Rauchende Grille/ Smoking Cricket, 1910. © Wien Museum.

Marie Uchatius: Vögel – Flächenmuster/ Birds – pattern, o.J. © Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien, Kunstsammlungen und Archiv.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Obstgarten (auch: Waldwiese)/ The Orchard (also: Woodland Meadow), 1903. © Norbert Miguletz.

Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel: Lawntennis (auch: Tennisspielerin, Tennisplatz)/ Lawn Tennis (also: Woman Playing Tennis, The Tennis Court), 1905/06, evtl. 1903. 1905/1906, possibly 1903. © Norbert Miguletz.


„Das grenzenlose Unheil, welches […]“/ “Inferior mass production, on the one hand, and […]“, zitiert nach/ quoted from: Josef Hoffmann: Das Arbeitsprogramm der Wiener Werkstätte, 1904. In: Wunberg, Gotthart (Hrsg.), Die Wiener Moderne. Literatur, Kunst und Musik zwischen 1890 und 1910. Stuttgart. 2000. Aufnahme: 4-Real Intermedia GmbH Offenbach 2016.


„Wiens eleganteste Café-Localität“/ “Vienna’s most elegant café”, zitiert nach/ quoted from: (online abgerufen am: 01.06.2016; 16:30).

„Der Zeit ihre Kunst […]“/ “To every age its art and to art its freedom […]”, zitiert nach/ quoted from: Tobias G. Natter, Max Hollein, Klaus Albrecht Schröder (Hrsg.) Hg. : Kunst für alle. Der Farbholzschnitt in Wien um 1900, Köln 2016; S.15.

„Wie weggefegt […]“/ “How swept away […]“, zitiert nach/ quoted from: Ver Sacrum. Heft 2, 1900, S.21.

„Die Zeitschrift „Ver Sacrum“ ist ein Appell an […]“/ “The magazine ‘Ver Sacrum’ is an appeal to […]“, zitiert nach/ quoted from: Ver Sacrum. Heft 1, 1898, S.31.