Cotsen Research Projects: Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children

Note: The Friends of the Princeton University Library offer short-term Library Research Grants to promote scholarly use of the research collections, which are awarded via a competitive application process.  Researchers usually offer a short informal talk or presentation to library staff and others in the Princeton academic community near the end of their work on campus about the results of their research and how it fits into their broader research project or interests.

The text below was kindly provided by Megan Brandow-Faller, recipient of a 2012 Library Research Grant, following her July 2012 research project at Princeton in both the Cotsen Children’s Library and Marquand Art Library, following her July, 13, 2012 talk entitled: “An Artist in Every Child–A Child in Every Artist: Avant-Garde Frauenkunst and Kinderkunst in Vienna, 1897-1930.”  (The images accompanying the text are adapted from select slides in her PowerPoint presentation.)  Dr. Brandow-Faller is currently Assistant Professor of History at the City University of New York/Kingsborough. Her research focuses on women’s art institutions in early twentieth century Habsburg Central Europe.

Vienna Secessionist Book Illustration for Children 

by Megan Brandow-Faller

The art of the child found fertile ground in Vienna 1900, cultivated by Franz Čižek’s renowned Jugendkunstkursen (Youth Art Classes), at important exhibitions of children’s art, and in the pages of Ver Sacrum and other periodicals.  Rejecting the elaborate technological miniatures popular in the nineteenth century–toys intended to ‘dazzle’ but which would ultimately leave a child cold–artists associated with the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstätte (the applied arts commercial workshops co-founded by Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser in 1903) designed objects conceived ‘with the eyes of a child.’ Secessionist toys, illustrated books and graphics using simple shapes and bright colors were designed to awaken children’s creative impulses in a design language that children could understand.

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figure 4b: Kolomann Moser & Therese Trethahn, turned wooden toys, in Jan. 1906 issue of Kind and Kunst.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

In designing these so-called ‘reform toys,’ Secessionists tapped two main sources for inspiration: the untutored drawing of children and traditional turned wooden peasant toys. The January 1906 issue of Alexander Koch’s progressive journal Kind and Kunst, for instance, devoted a richly-illustrated twenty-three page article to Wiener Werkstätte items (including finely-illustrated children’s books, games, silver rattles, and furniture suites) for children, including toy designs by Hoffmann, Moser, and Carl Otto Czeschka.

Kolo Moser’s crudely-shaped wooden figurines (illustrated in Figure 4b) reveal how Secessionists interpreted traditional toys in a highly-stylized manner verging on the grotesque.

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum.  (Marquand Library)

Figure 1a: Minka Podhajska, cover illustration for Sept. 1902 issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

Yet, it was actually the female students of Hoffmann, Moser, and Czeschka who produced some of the most important work in artistic toys and children’s book illustration. Contemporary critics found toy design and book illustration particularly appropriate fields for female craftswomen, given women’s ‘natural’ stake in childrearing (i.e. that women were believed to better understood children’s thought processes than men). Female craftswomen training at Austria’s progressive School of Applied Arts and Vienna’s Women’s Academy exploited such discursive linkages to the fullest.

 

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum. (Marquand Library)

Figure 1b: Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, stenciled image in Sept. 1902 Issue of Ver Sacrum.
(Marquand Library)

One popular method of graphic art and book illustration for children involved the use of painted stencils to produce clear, simple images. Stenciling had experienced a recent revival during the English and Scottish arts-and-crafts movement. In conjunction with the so-called Schablonieren Kurs (Stenciling Course) taught by Secessionist Adolf Böhm at the Women’s Academy, Böhm’s students published illustrated fairy tale and picture books and gained recognition through replication of such illustrations in the pages of Ver Sacrum, die Fläche and other periodicals. A special September 1902 issue of the Secessionist periodical Ver Sacrum featured the work of Böhm’s students. (Figures 1a & 1b)  His students’ toy designs were regularly featured in the pages of The Studio.

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903. (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 2a & 2b: Fanny Harlfinger Zakucka, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

One such book of children’s stencils (housed in the Cotsen Collection) created by Women’s Academy classmates artist/designers Minka Podhajska and Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka around 1903 employs a fresh and original graphic language using negative white space in lieu of the black borders that Čižek encouraged his students to bound their drawings.

Packing a strong expressive punch into a minimal number of marks expressed as abstract geometrical shapes, Harlfinger-Zakucka’s stenciled image of a reform-clothing-clad mother, sporting what looks to be Wiener-Werkstätte style textiles, guiding her toddler plays on negative and positive space to reveal the interconnected forms and hence psychological closeness of mother and child (Figure 2b). Her stencil of a children’s Jause (snacktime) employs similar techniques (Figure 2a). These stenciled images reveal a striking encounter with Japanese printmaking techniques in their unusual manipulation of spatial perspective and boldly ‘cropped’ nature.

 

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.  (Cotsen Children's Library)

Figures 3a & 3b: Minka Podhaska, stenciled images from Schablanon Drücke, ca. 1903.
(Cotsen Children’s Library)

Likewise carving her images out of negative white space, Podhajska’s depiction of a dancing couple (Figure 3a) reveals her fascination with folk art, an important source of influence for the turned-wooden toys she and Harlfinger-Zakucka produced. Her stencil of a witch conjuring her brew employs a wonderfully expressive sinuous curve associated with the new art movement (Figure 3b), which also relates well to the idiosyncratic use of turning-lathe methods in her turned-wooden figurines. The tangible figure of the witch and cauldron is expressed in a curvilinear fashion. Yet it is the intangible aspects of the image–the suggestion of smoke, fire and more abstractly the witches’ incantations–lending it its fiery expressiveness. While both artists tapped into folk imagery and design idioms, their work freely reinvented and modernized traditional folk design into images that were designed to awaken children’s creativity through subtle narrative elements. Images stood alone to leave the rest of the story to children’s imagination.