Ramblings Loosely Related to Art History #5: A Wittgenstein Wochenendbeilage

  • Advertise with us
Blog entry by naomi weiss posted 10-23-2009 01:33 PM 1321 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 4: Another Depiction of Jesus as a Carpenter Part 5 of Ramblings Loosely Related to Art History series no next part

297px-Gustav_Klimt_055There are loads more cool things about Wittgenstein. Since his family was minted, he chilled with so many of his generation’s elite—especially the artistic elite. I suppose one way of putting it would be that when you walk into the Neue Galerie on 5th Ave., you’re pretty much entering Wittgenstein’s world.
For the better format of this post, click here.

This painting by Klimt is of Wittgenstein’s sister, also known as Margaret Stonborough (1905). Wittgenstein’s father also commissioned works by Rodin and fully funded the Vienna Secession building. Basically, he was the sugar daddy for many artists and architects of the various modernist movements. The Vienna Secession was primarily founded by Josef Hoffman, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Otto Wagner, and Koloman Moser.

Wittgenstein not only rubbed shoulders with the gifted artists of his day, but also one particularly mediocre artist, as well. At school, he was two years above Adolf Hitler, despite being born six days after the future Fuhrer. Thirty six years later, Wittgenstein would be on the run from his former schoolmate, and ironically require his assistance. With the advent of the Anschluss, or Germany’s annexation of Austria, Wittgenstein was racially classified as a Jew. In order to be reclassified—to receive a Befreiung—as a Mischlinge, the applicant required the personal approval of Hitler. Out of 2100 applications in 1939, Hitler approved 12 (but not because he was stingy or really hated Jews; he was simply too busy designing flamboyant leather uniforms for his troops). The Wittgensteins’ sheer wealth, which the Reichsbank had likely been eagerly eyeing for quite some time, definitely made the slim odds seem more in their favour to have their grandfather (and therefore his progeny) reclassified. And it would certainly cost them. In August of 1939, for the hefty sum of 1.7 tonnes of gold and other assets (way over $50 million in our time), the Befreiung was granted. If the Wittgensteins had transferred the money to the Reichsbank a few weeks later (i.e, after the outbreak of the war), it actually would have been considered a war crime, the punishment being death by hanging.

But before Hitler ruined the Wittgenstein’s party, Ludwig had met some pretty cool people and tried his hand at a few artistic pursuits, as well. Brahms and Mahler hung out at his house, and Brahms even gave his sister piano lessons.
Wittgenstein’s sister commissioned Josef Hoffman to build this desk, which i have not been able to get out of my head since my visit to the Neue Gallerie. Hoffman stained the oak and then rubbed chalk into the wood grain to achieve this effect.

In 1925, Margaret Stonborough also commissioned her brother Ludwig—then a gardener in a nearby monastery—as an architect to design a large house for her in Vienna. Wittgenstein worked alongside Paul Engelmann, his friend from the army. Just to get an idea of how all the modernist movements are intertwined (not necessarily harmoniously), Engelmann had studied under Adolf Loos, who was also a friend of Wittgenstein. Loos basically bashed the Vienna Secession, whose building Wittgenstein’s father had financed.

During the building of his sister’s house, Wittgenstein also focussed more on sculpture. He had met the sculptor Michael Drobil when they were both in a POW camp, and Drobil had been a member of the Secession, as well.

It’s fascinating to contextualise philosophers and artists with their cultural milieu. That being said, i’ve barely scratched the surface of the modernists, and i welcome any suggested reading.

-- 'Humility is a duty in great ones, as well as in idiots'--Jeremy Taylor

7 comments so far

View Russel's profile


2199 posts in 5224 days

#1 posted 10-23-2009 02:26 PM

Most interesting. I enjoy the combination of aesthetics and mechanics wrapped in a cultural context in your posts. Definitely adds a different perspective.

-- Working at Woodworking

View a1Jim's profile


118296 posts in 4862 days

#2 posted 10-23-2009 03:15 PM

View KayBee's profile


1083 posts in 4531 days

#3 posted 10-23-2009 09:18 PM

As always, very interesting reading. Thanks.

-- Karen - a little bit of stupid goes a long way

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 4633 days

#4 posted 10-24-2009 08:09 AM

As a result of my education (both formal and informal) I have a pretty good grasp of the Vienna Secession particularly from an architectural and painting perspective. I have always found it interesting that the movement imposed no aesthetic dogma but instead focused on producing modern works of art. My understanding of the context beyond the artistic world has always been somewhat limited. I am sure you know that Art and Architectural history professors typically don’t like to teach social and political history. For the most part it seems if one whats to understand the art world in it’s broader context they will have to do it on their own.

I don’t know if these reading suggestions will align with your interests or not but I have read them and found them interesting. They cast a wider net then most art/architectural books do regarding context (the widest context is probably the Judgment of Paris).

These three are by Ross King
The Judgment of Paris: The Revolutionary Decade that Gave the World Impressionism

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling

Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

Gregory Curtis wrote
The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists

Philip Steadman wrote
Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth behind the Masterpieces

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View naomi weiss's profile

naomi weiss

207 posts in 4679 days

#5 posted 10-26-2009 10:59 AM

JLSmith—thanks for the recommendations. Would you mind if i posted them to my blog?

-- 'Humility is a duty in great ones, as well as in idiots'--Jeremy Taylor

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 4633 days

#6 posted 10-26-2009 02:34 PM

Of course not….

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View naomi weiss's profile

naomi weiss

207 posts in 4679 days

#7 posted 10-26-2009 03:04 PM

Thanks! I just put a new post up about art and context.

-- 'Humility is a duty in great ones, as well as in idiots'--Jeremy Taylor

Have your say...

You must be signed in to post the comments.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics