Historicism

Historicism

Historicism is a prevalent artistic style throughout 19th and in early 20th Century, a time when Europe is faithful to the classic form. Historicism finds painters and architects reviving the themes and styles from earlier eras.

Viennese architecture is a striking example of this. Between 1870 and 1880, the city is in under construction. Emperor Franz Joseph I orders the demolition of the city walls and moats, making way for a grand boulevard, to be known as the Ringstrasse. This classy new boulevard, right at the heart of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, begins to attract public institutions and the bourgeoisie. Extravagant revivalist architecture starts to manifest itself throughout the city.

The design choices are anything but modest and, with this movement, the State reasserts its core values to its citizens. For example, in 1883 the City Hall is completed in the Gothic Revival Style, a reference to the Medieval Guild, the corporation which regulated the practice of different trades. In the same year, Ancient Greek architecture arrives on the scene in the form of the new Parliament building, designed after the headquarters of democracy. Five years later, the style chosen for the new theater is baroque.

Painters are also drawing inspiration from the past, portraying the main events in ancient and medieval history as well as mythological and biblical themes. Western Europe has perpetuated a tradition of historic painting for centuries but what separates historicism in the 19th century, is the academic style in which its subjects are formed.

From a formal perspective, the manner in which the subjects are portrayed in this era verges on idealism and perfection. Academic convention insists on starting with a sketch: the artist should be able to bring some depth into their work by first sketching it out, otherwise, it has no character. Perspective and the naked form, a study imperative for creating natural poses, are fundamental steps in the Academic trajectory.

In Vienna, Hans Markart is the figurehead of historicism. Gustav Klimt subscribes to Markart’s style, while training under him for the Festzug parade, a historic re-enactment requested by the imperial couple to mark their silver wedding anniversary.

However, having specialised in three-dimensional art, Klimt soon closes the door on Historicism and opens it to new aesthetics, including Symbolism and Japanese Art, creating his own new artistic language.