Media Information November 2016 The Better Half

Media Information November 2016
The Better Half - Jewish Women Artists Before 1938
November 4, 2016, to May 1, 2017
Vienna 1900 was also a city of women. In spite of the difficult situation for women in art, many female artists
managed to make a career in the early days of Modernism. A disproportionate number of these women
artists came from assimilated Jewish families. Painters like Tina Blau, Broncia Koller-Pinell, Marie-Louise
von Motesiczky, and the ceramic artists Vally Wieselthier and Susi Singer are still known today. Many others,
however, like the sculptress Teresa Feodorovna Ries, the painters Grete Wolf-Krakauer and Helene
Taussig, and the painter and illustrator Lili Réthi, have been unfairly forgotten. The exhibition The Better Half
presents forty-four of these artists and describes their studies and careers, their struggle for recognition in a
male-dominated art world, and the promising careers interrupted through expulsion and exile, or
extinguished forever in the Nazi extermination camps. An exhibition with lots of new findings and
Outstanding personalities
In the much-vaunted fin-de-siècle, a golden age of art and culture, it was almost unthinkable for a woman to
pursue an artistic career. Jewish women were prominent as salon hostesses or patrons of the art in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but they were excluded from official art education institutes and
indeed academic life in general. They were not admitted to art academies until 1920, and for that reason
many young women attended art schools specially set up for them. Particularly in Jewish families, which set
great store by education, girls were encouraged to pursue their artistic talents and were offered opportunities
to obtain an art education, sometimes through expensive private tuition with a male artist, and later with their
own studio.
As the artists’ associations at the turn of the century did not admit women, in 1910 they founded the
Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs (Austrian Association of Women Artists—VBKÖ), which still
exists today. They were supported by the aristocracy but also by prominent and influential Jewish families
(Bondi, Ephrussi, Gomperz, Gutmann, Rothschild, Schey, Wertheimstein, etc.). These associations
represented the interests of their members and endeavored through exhibitions and other events to improve
their earnings potential and reputation.
An above-average proportion of Viennese women artists came from Jewish families, including some of the
most well-known and important artists of their time, such as Tina Blau, Broncia Koller-Pinell, or Vally
Wieselthier. Their families had often come from shtetls in Galicia, but they themselves were generally from
assimilated backgrounds. It took some time for even the most prominent of them to be accepted as
independent artists. It is not possible to generalize about the contribution as a whole of Jewish women
artists. They constituted a very heterogeneous group, whose forms of artistic expression differed widely and
highlighted the uniqueness of their personalities.
The Pioneers
Tina Blau and Teresa Feodorovna Ries were among the first women in the late nineteenth century to pursue
professional careers as artists. In the 1860s and early 1870s the landscape painter Tina Blau was the only
female representative of “Stimmungsimpressionismus,” the Austrian version of the pan-European
atmospheric landscape painting movement inspired by the Barbizon school. The Russian-born sculptress
Teresa Feodorovna Ries was unfazed by the difficult working conditions and managed to establish a place
for herself in what had until then been an exclusively male domain.
Wiener Werkstätte
In the years before World War I, female artists played an important role in the Wiener Werkstätte founded in
1903 by Josef Hoffmann and Kolo Moser with the financial backing of the Jewish industrialist and patron of
the arts Fritz Waerndorfer. Its aim was to combine applied and visual arts on an equal footing. The most
prominent female representatives like Vally Wieselthier, Susi Singer-Schinnerl, and Kitty Rix were Jewish.
Wieselthier even exhibited her works in 1928 at the Metropolitan Museum’s International Exhibition of
Ceramic Art; Singer and Rix transformed traditional household ceramics into exceptional sculptures.
Careers Abroad
Already in the 1920s, many Viennese women artists moved abroad or at least lived there for a time: the
painter Lilly Steiner to Paris, Vally Wieselthier to the USA, the graphic artist Bertha Tarnay first to Berlin and
then to Britain, and the painter Grete Wolf-Krakauer to Palestine. They were prompted to leave for many
different reasons: the difficult economic situation in Austria, the need to broaden their artistic horizon,
Zionism, a desire for adventure and the new freedom of a Bohemian lifestyle, which women could now also
pursue, or, as in the case of Friedl Dicker, political reasons. She had been arrested in 1934 for Communist
activities and escaped in 1936 after being released from prison.
The End
The hard-earned acceptance was short-lived, and the careers of Jewish women artists was abruptly
terminated by the Shoah. Some were able to escape, leaving everything behind and struggling in exile to
make a new life of any kind let alone pursue their artistic endeavors. Others, like Friedl Dicker-Brandeis,
were unable to escape and were deported and killed, extinguishing all memory of them. This is all the more
poignant considering the fact that before the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany in March 1938, the
Jewish origins of many of these women had been completely irrelevant.
The exhibition is curated by Andrea Winklbauer and Sabine Fellner and designed by Conny Cossa and Julia
Nuler. It is accompanied by a media guide in German and English, downloadable free of charge for
smartphone or tablet. Devices can also be loaned by the Museum. A catalogue in English and German is
being published by Metro-Verlag, available now at the Museum bookshop for €29.90.
The exhibition The Better Half—Jewish Women Artists Before 1938 can be seen from November 4, 2016, to
May 1, 2017, at Museum Dorotheergasse, a member of Wien Holding. The museum at 1010 Vienna,
Dorotheergasse 11, is open Sundays to Fridays from 10 am to 6 pm. Museum Judenplatz, Judenplatz 8,
1010 Vienna, is open Sundays to Thursdays from 10 am to 6 pm and Fridays from 10 am to 2 pm (during the
summer until 5 pm). Further information and details about reduced prices can be found at or
[email protected] A free guided tour of the permanent exhibition is offered every Sunday at 3 pm. At 4.30 pm on
the first Sunday of the month a free guided tour of Museum Judenplatz is also included in the ticket price.
Further information and details about reduced prices can be found at or [email protected]
Alfred Stalzer, media spokesman
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