Between Klimt, Mucha, and Hodler: The art of Kolo Moser 1, 1891-1898

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Pieta (c 1895), oil on canvas, 72 x 116 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

Around the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth centuries, Vienna was a hotbed of change in art. Several of its leading figures died a century ago this year: Gustav Klimt on 6 February 1918, Ferdinand Hodler (the Swiss painter) on 19 May, Egon Schiele on 31 October, and Koloman Moser on 18 October. This is the first of a short series of articles looking at the life and work of Koloman Moser, to commemorate the centenary of his death.

Known generally as Kolo, Moser was one of the leading painters, graphic artists and designers of the Vienna Secession. He was born in the city in 1868, and studied at its Academy of Fine Arts from 1885, then at its School of Applied Arts from 1892. He taught drawing from 1888, and in 1899 was appointed to teach at the School of Applied Arts, being made a professor there the following year.

If Moser had a fault, it was his great versatility and the wide range of media for which he worked. In addition to painting and print-making, he designed books, postage stamps, stained glass, ceramics, glassware, tableware, furniture and jewellery. In these articles, I will focus on his painting, but also show a few examples of other related work.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Madonna (1891), oil on canvas, 47 x 38 cm, location not known. Wikimedia Commons.

During his final year or so at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, Moser painted this Madonna (1891) in oils. She is shown in frankly contemporary terms, with a subtle rather than prominent halo, and suffuse earth colours instead of the traditional ultramarine blue robes.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), The Frog Prince (c 1895), oil on panel, 25.5 x 35 cm, Universität für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

Moser’s Frog Prince from about 1895 is very dark, but tells the well-known story of the frog which appeared to a princess, and turned into a prince when kissed. The frog wears a small crown, and presents the princess with the golden ball which she had lost in the pond.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), A Modern Tantalus (c 1895), ink and pencil on paper, illustration for ‘Meggendorfer Blätter’, 27 x 24 cm, Universität für angewandte Kunst, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

Moser’s works become more illustrative during his time at the Vienna School of Applied Arts in the mid-1890s. A Modern Tantalus from about 1895 was drawn in ink and pencil as an illustration for Meggendorfer-Blätter, a Munich-based art and satirical magazine which was published from 1888-1944.

Tantalus or Tantalos was a mythical king, a son of Jupiter and the father of the ill-fated Pelops and Niobe. After he sacrificed his son Pelops and served his body in a banquet for the gods, he was punished in the underworld by being forced to stand in a pool with the branches of a fruit tree above him: whenever he reached up for some fruit, the branches moved up out of his reach; whenever he bent down to drink, the water level fell and left him thirsty. Hence the word tantalise, which Moser here interprets in terms of a lecherous man wanting a pretty young woman who refuses him.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Pieta (c 1895), oil on canvas, 72 x 116 cm, Private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

His next surviving painting, from about the same time, is a very modern version of the traditional Pieta (c 1895), showing the Virgin Mary with Christ’s body after he was crucified. More conventionally, Mary would be seen cradling the body, but here is holding his arm with her right hand, as her left clutches her face in grief.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Love (c 1895), India ink, white gouache on paper, illustration for ‘Gerlachs Allegorien’, 41 x 41 cm, Museen der Stadt Wien, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

In about 1895, Moser drew series of illustrations in India ink and white gouache, this one on the theme of Love. These were for a supplementary volume of allegories compiled by Martin Peter Gerlach (1846-1918), known as Gerlach’s Allegorien. The first two volumes had been published in 1882, and this third and final collection is thought to have been published in Vienna in about 1900. Among the many other artists who contributed was Gustav Klimt.

This drawing shows a young faun with a nymph, and appears thoroughly classical in its approach.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Spring Morning (1896-97), color lithograph, 43.9 x 35 cm, Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

Spring Morning from 1896-97 is a color lithograph which was also published as Plate 47 in Gerlach’s Allegorien. This is much more Art Nouveau in its style, and closer to that of Alphonse Mucha, who had worked in Vienna between 1879-87 before he moved to Paris.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Leopoldine Steindl-Moser, the Artist’s Sister, Sewing (c 1895), pastel on cardboard, 46 x 32 cm, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

Moser continued to paint in traditional media throughout most of his career. He painted this sensitive pastel portrait of Leopoldine Steindl-Moser, the Artist’s Sister, Sewing in about 1895.

In 1897, Moser was one of the co-founders of the Vienna Secession, together with Gustav Klimt, and the architect and designer Josef Hoffmann. He immersed himself in many of its projects, including the design of the facade and a glass window for the Secession’s new building, and was a major contributor to its magazine Ver Sacrum.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Art, design sketch for a round window (1897), India ink and watercolor on paper, 20.9 x 22.8 cm, Österreichisches Museum für angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

Art is, I believe, one of Moser’s design sketches for the round stained-glass window for the new building, made in 1897.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Red and Green (1897), proof print of colour lithograph, 36 x 26 cm, Museen der Stadt Wien, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

Moser’s Red and Green is a proof print of a colour lithograph from 1897, which shows well the simplicity of many of his prints.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Girl in the Countryside (1898), etching on paper for ‘Ver Sacrum’ 1/4, 30 x 28.5 cm, Museen der Stadt Wien, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

The following year, Moser’s Girl in the Countryside (1898) is a more sophisticated etching on paper for Ver Sacrum.

Koloman Moser (1868–1918), Portrait Study (1898-99), ink on paper for cover of first portfolio of ‘Ver Sacrum’, 29 x 46 cm, Die Sammlung Leopold, Vienna, Austria. Wikimedia Commons.

This portrait study in ink from 1898-99 shows his skill in reducing an image to just a few fragments while retaining many of its subtle details. This was used on the cover of the first portfolio of Ver Sacrum.

During the period 1897-1907, Kolo Moser became one of the most sought-after designers in central Europe, a theme for my next article about him.


Kolo Moser website.