Secessionism was the Austro-Hungarian variant on the Art Nouveau movement—a turn-of-the-century design aesthetic which developed in many (mostly Western) countries and cultures. The French had Art Nouveau, the English had Arts & Crafts, the Germans had Jugendstil and the Austro-Hungarians had Secessionism.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was vast—and (circa 1900) Vienna was its glittering seat-of-power. Although the Empire had other, culturally-rich cities (notably Prague and Budapest), Vienna set the tone for the rest of the Empire, both politically and aesthetically. Yet, while the design inspiration was flowing from Vienna, much of the production of beautiful things took place far from that city. Czechoslovakia (today divided into Slovakia and the Czech Republic) had the space, the designers and the talented craftsmen to produce much of the glass and ceramics for the rest of the Empire. Luckily, Czechoslovakia shipped a lot of its beautiful work to the rest of the world.
Shown above, a collection of Czech Secessionist ceramics, circa 1920’s. At one time, I had several dozen pieces—until one happy day when an interior designer walked-in and purchased my entire collection. Since then, I’ve gone about replacing them a bit too slowly. But the time has come for me to re-build the collection with renewed vigor.
The Twenties, when these pieces were made, was bookended by two defining events: first, the death of Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef (1916) and the loss of World War One (1918) after which the Empire was dissolved; and, secondly, the financial crash of 1929 and the Depression to follow. Since many of these pieces were made for export to the West, production slowed (and ceased) when the overseas orders dried-up in the late Twenties and early Thirties. Nevertheless, these pieces represent a specific and interesting time and place—and I look-forward to increasing my collection of them.
More newly-acquired European art pottery tomorrow.
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