Vienna Secession

CZESCHKA (Carl Otto) - KEIM (Franz)

Die Nibelungen. Dem Deutschen Volke wiedererzählt von Franz Keim. Bilder und Austattung von C. O. Czeschka.

Wien & Leipzig, Verlag Gerlach u. Wiedling, [Gerlach’s Jugendbucherei, 22], [1908].

Small square 8vo, publisher’s cream cloth boards with title in small central square blocked in black, spine lettered in black, paper doublure and endpapers with vertical stripes in blue and white. 67 pp. Decorated title page with ribbon decoration enclosing block lettering printed in black, vignettes, decorated initials, head, and tailpieces, printed in black, and 8 breathtaking double-page coloured plates with gold highlights by Carl Otto Czeschka. Complete.

First edition of one of the finest illustrated books associated with the early Wiener Werkstätte and the Vienna Secession.

“Carl Otto Czeschka’s eight double-page illustrations to Franz Keim’s abridged version of the Nibelung saga, a mythic tale of royal wealth and betrayal, evoke an elegant and enchanted world. Stylized toy soldiers and chessboard knights, like the ones the artist displayed at the Viennese Kunstschau exhibition in 1908, stand guard or enact epic battles. A Viking ship glides through choppy waters; the luminous geometric ornamentation on its sail epitomizes the Viennese use of lush surface patterning, in which exotic and folk sources were filtered through a distinctively modern aesthetic. The volume appealed to the widespread interest in untutored forms, such as primitive and children’s art, as a basis for cultural authenticity and renewal. Czeschka’s designs elevate the simplified, populist interpretation by Keim, a former teacher and German nationalist. Published as part of the thirty-four-volume series Gerlachs Jugendbücherei (Gerlach’s youth library) aimed at Austrian schoolchildren, the tiny, almost square-shaped book serves as a perfect realization of the Gesamtkunstwerk – a total work of art in which all elements follow a single artistic idea. Checkered borders frame every page. The text is set in a modernized blackletter type, suggestive of medieval calligraphy, by the famed Jugendstil artist Otto Eckmann” (MoMA).

Alongside Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, Carl Otto Czeschka (1878-1960) is one of the most prominent associates of the Wiener Werkstätte. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna from 1894 to 1899 in the class of Christian Griepenkerl. Very early on he came into close contact with the Secession (of which he became a member in 1900) and the Klimt group. He drew postcards and illustrations for Gerlach & Schenk in Vienna from 1898, as well as for other publishing houses, Insel among others. After having been an assistant professor for three years, he took, in 1905, the direction of the ornamental drawing and painting class at the School of Applied Arts of the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry where he had among his students Oskar Kokoschka, Maria von Uchatius and Rudolf Kalvach. It was he who recognized the talent of the young Kokoschka and enrolled him in his class, despite the resistance of his fellow teachers. At that time, he carried out various graphic works: illustrations, wood engravings, stage and interior decorations, and typography. The artist was a member of the Wiener Werkstätte from 1905 to 1908, when he took up a teaching post at the Hamburg School of Arts and Crafts, continuing to produce designs for the Wiener Werkstätte, with a high influence on the workshop’s style. He produced a whole range of work in several disciplines including metalwork, woodwork, jewellery, textiles, furniture, stained glass, stage, and interiors, both domestic and commercial, as well as in graphics and illustration. His magnum opus in the field of illustration is undoubtedly Die Niebelungen. His designs were inspirational for Fritz Lang when he produced his film version in 1924. He participated in the Kunstschau in 1908 and 1909, and the decoration of the Cabaret Fledermaus and the Palais Stoclet in Brussels.

A fine copy.

Ref. Bilderwelt im Kinderbuch, (1988), 544 / Catalogue of the Cotsen Children’s Library, (2000), 7951 / Jean Clair, Vienne 1880-1938, l’apocalypse joyeuse (1986), p. 732 / Hanna Egger, Österreichische Kinderbücher, Gestern und Heute, Livres d’enfants autrichiens, hier et aujourd’hui, (1987), 51 / Giovanni Fanelli, La linea viennese, (1989), p. 94, pp. 246-247 / Giovanni Fanelli, Dizionario degli illustratori simbolisti e art nouveau, (1990), I, pp. 123-124 / Friedrich C. Heller, Die bunte Welt, (2008), p. 35, 105 / Hans H. Hofstätter, Jugendstil et Art nouveau, œuvres graphiques, (1985), pp. 244-245 / Peter Noever, Yearning for Beauty, (2006), p. 82 / Michael Pabst, L’Art graphique à Vienne autour de 1900, (1985), pp. 279-287 / Werner J. Schweiger, Wiener Werkstätte, art et artisanat, 1903-1932, (1986), pp. 54-55, 259-260 / The Turn of a Century, Harvard/Houghton Library, 131 / Pascal de Sadeleer, « L’Art et l’idée », Un centenaire fin de siècle, 1ère partie, (1992), 123 / Kirk Varnedoe, Wien 1900: Kunst, Architektur & Design, (1987), p. 131