Although Koloman Moser (1868–1918) had withdrawn from the Wiener Werkstätte in 1907, he continued to undertake design work in his later years. This included design for stamps, and particularly of stage sets for productions in Vienna. But his focus remained on painting, in which he turned increasingly to figurative works.
His Self-portrait from about 1914 is unusual, not for depicting him in the act of sketching a landscape, but for setting himself in the remains of a building which almost comes to dominate the image. His skin tones are now a light ochre, matching the stone walls.
This study (above) for his painting of Three Crouching Women, below, shows his illustrator’s precision in anatomy.
The finished work, Three Crouching Women from about 1914, shows three nude women in positions which imply their bondage, set in a broad avenue of tree-like forms. The figures glow golden yellow in their highlights, and each has an aura-like surround, implying their sanctity without explaining what or why.
Moser’s Venus in the Grotto (c 1914) is perhaps easier to read. Venus is shown as a modern woman who is opening a uterine caul. The surrounding colours imply that this is set in foliage, but once again the setting is abstracted from clear physical forms.
The Wayfarer (c 1914) is even more closely related to figurative paintings by Hodler, as a nude young man strides out between trees, his staff thrust forward from his right hand.
Moser brings together a man bearing a torch – The Light – with two women writhing alongside on pink clouds, in this painting from about 1914.
Sadly, I have found fewer landscapes from 1914 and later, of which Rainy Day (1914) is one of his finest. Apparently set in the Rax once again, a band of raincloud hovers half way up the mountains, and the forests below exude steam.
The final three paintings which I show of Moser’s are each of couples, and possibly based on theatrical performances in Vienna. Tristan and Isolde from about 1915 most probably shows these lovers from Wagner’s opera, as Tristan is bringing Isolde across the sea from Ireland to Isolde’s betrothed, King Marke. Isolde is persuading Tristan to drink her love potion, as his sword rests at their feat.
Wotan and Brünnhilde (c 1916) refers to Wagner’s opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelung, specifically (I believe) to the close of the last act of Die Walküre (The Valkyrie). In this, Wotan, Brünnhilde’s father, lays his daughter down on a rock as she sleeps, then summons Loge to create a circle of flames around her.
Judith and Holofernes (1916) may be based on the well-known Biblical account, or perhaps on Alexander Serov’s opera Judith (1863). Set in the enemy general’s tent, he lies in a drunked stupor, as the naked Judith prepares to decapitate him.
Moser was also active in making stage designs over these years: this is his painting in gouache of a set for Hermann Bahr’s play Das Phantom (The Phantom) of 1913.
In 1905-07, Moser collaborated with Leopold Forstner (1878-1936), already famous for making mosaics and stained glass, in the design and production of windows and mosaics for the Kirche am Steinhof (also known as Otto-Wagner-Kirche) in Vienna. Most impressive among these is this window of The Physical Virtues.
Am Steinhof, as it was widely known then, is a large psychiatric and neurological hospital complex which was planned by the architect Otto Koloman Wagner (1841-1918), and built between 1904-07 in a suburb to the west of Vienna. Its architecture is Art Nouveau, and it contains several of the finest examples of that style, particularly its Roman Catholic oratory: Wikipedia has an excellent article about it here, and an extensive library of images in Wikimedia Commons.
Like Gustav Klimt, Moser designed clothing which was worn by those in their circles. This photo of Klimt’s partner Emilie Flöge (1874-1952) taken by Moser in 1910 shows her wearing a dress designed by Moser. Flöge was a very successful couturier in Vienna, opening her fashion salon in a prestigious location in the city in 1904.
Kolo Moser died on 18 October 1918, apparently of cancer, although his final illness may have been the influenza which had spread throughout Europe in a pandemic.
Gustav Klimt had died on 6 February, Otto Wagner on 11 April, Ferdinand Hodler on 19 May, and Egon Schiele was to die almost a fortnight later. Emilie Flöge’s business was destroyed in the Anschluss in 1938, and towards the end of the war her unique collection of garments and objects associated with Klimt were destroyed when her house burned down.
Their art – particularly the amazing church in Am Steinhof – lives on.
Kolo Moser website.