The Künstler-Compagnie

The Künstler-Compagnie

While still students at the School of Applied Arts in Vienna, the Klimt brothers and Matsch are encouraged by their professor, Ferdinand Laufberger, to establish their own artists’ company, specialising in painting and decorating. The Künstler-Compagnie der Gebrüder Klimt und Matsch (Artists' Company, Klimt Brothers and Matsch) is born in 1879.

The company is regularly consulted, and yet was not receiving any commissioned projects in Vienna. In 1883, the three associates invest in a studio in the capital and immediately get in touch with Rudolf Von Eitelberger, the director of the School of Applied Arts, asking him to recommend their services to the imperial court: “Until now, as you are aware, Honourable Advisor to the Court, our work has been destined for the province or abroad. This is why, it is our greatest wish to complete a work of great significance in our own hometown.”

The Artists’ Company realises this ambition and fulfils several commissions in the years that follow. They are a resounding success. 1888 sees them awarded the Golden Cross of Merit for their work on the grand staircase of the Vienna Burgtheater, the newly built Austrian national theater on the Ringstrasse.

The three acolytes replicate the Historicist style of the Viennese grand master, Hans Makart. However, while working on the Burgtheatre commission, Gustav Klimt’s vision begins to evolve and diverge from that of Ernst and Matsch. Already, Klimt looks at depth in an innovative way, bestowing a two-dimensional effect on his representations.

In 1891, the Künstler-Compagnie joins the Austrian Artists’ Society, often referred to as the Künstlerhaus, a name taken from Vienna’s art exhibition building. The organisation is powerful. It is responsible for national and international exhibitions and enjoys a monopoly on the Viennese art market. Its selection committee is conservative and upholds the academic style that Klimt would soon break away from. In 1897, he leaves the Künstlerhaus. Around the same time, he and Franz Matsch, the newly appointed Imperial Court painter, drift further apart. In 1903, after the scandal over his canvasses commissioned by the University of Vienna, Klimt leaves the Künstler-Compagnie.