One of the world’s leading authorities on the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright unveils a previously unknown collection of art prints that reveals Wright’s artistic affinities with the modernism of the European Secessionist movements
These Secessionist art prints, acquired by Frank Lloyd Wright and his lover Mamah Borthwick Cheney during their infamous flight to Europe in 1909–1910, reveal a new dimension of the architect’s taste and aesthetic preferences. This previously unknown and newly discovered group of prints from his personal art collection shows that around the turn of the twentieth century Wright had a surprising interest in European artists pursuing their own versions of modernism. Identified from careful archival research, the prints demonstrate how richly diffuse and multifaceted modernism was before the codification of a modernist canon. Wright, a revolutionary architect, preferred the work of Secessionists to that of the avant-garde of expressionism, cubism, and futurism. To Wright, the artists he selected were modern, and they appealed deeply to his interest in landscapes and graphic techniques of reproduction.
In Frank Lloyd Wright, Art Collector, Anthony Alofsin presents the first catalogue raisonné of the thirty-two prints and one original drawing that constitute Wright’s Secessionist collection. Alofsin explores Wright’s encounters with German and Austrian art before his travels to Europe; the fluid definition of modern art around 1909; and the complex context for Wright’s acquiring this collection while in Europe. This book, with its original research, puts into a new light a range of artists—some famous, others unknown—who sought to express, like Wright, their own rebellion against academic traditions. A unique contribution to the history of modern art, Frank Lloyd Wright, Art Collector offers stunningly original insights into the master’s artistic taste, as well as to a group of progressive artists whose work has been undeservedly overlooked in conventional histories of modernism.
- Introduction: Frank Lloyd Wright, American Secessionist
- Catalogue of the Secessionist Prints in the Frank Lloyd Wright Collection
- Selected Bibliography
Frank Lloyd Wright, American Secessionist
Frank Lloyd Wright, the ultimate persona of American architectural culture, wanted to appear not only as the champion of democratic architecture, but also as a genius who operated outside the sphere of artistic influence. His mentor, the Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, and a love of Japan were among the few influences Wright acknowledged, but he was more receptive to the work of artists and architects than he ever admitted. One indication of his receptivity to a range of aesthetics is found in his role as an art collector with broad tastes. Over his long life, Wright (1867–1959) assembled several collections in various media, including Japanese woodblock prints, Asian textiles, Japanese and Chinese folding screens, kakemonos (hanging scrolls), as well as rugs, ceramics, and wood and stone sculpture. His Japanese prints have been studied. But one hundred years ago, Wright did something surprising and until now totally unknown: he assembled a series of German and Austrian art prints in 1909–1910 during his infamous flight to Europe with his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Long hidden within the voluminous archives of his work at Taliesin West in Scottsdale, Arizona, this collection of thirty-two prints, plus one original drawing, constitutes a testament of Wright's aesthetic orientation and his interest in the graphic work of artists, including leading figures of the Secession movements in Germany and Austria.
Wright's travels to Europe in 1909–1910 liberated in him a series of creative investigations, running throughout the 1910s, that paralleled the earlier work of the European Secessionists, particularly those in Vienna. Despite the fact that the Secession movement had already peaked in Europe and that Wright was beset by personal problems, his work of the decade shared many of the values and aesthetics important to the Secessionists: a reliance on pure forms with roots in the origins of art, an appreciation of primitivist culture in the non-Western world, and the inspiration to take these pure sources as the basis for a new language of design. After Wright's return from Europe, his work entered a primitivist period, as could be seen in some of the major buildings following his well-known prairie period: the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo (1913–1922) and Midway Gardens (1913–1914) in Chicago. Wright's Secessionist print collection helps confirm how he, so American to the core, saw his own work as in tune with that of the Secessionists. With reason, Harriet Monroe, the founder of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, described Wright after his return from his European travels as "the most important of American Secessionists and is so recognized by the leading Secessionists abroad." The art critic C. Matlack Price made a similar assessment, identifying Wright as among the American "secessionists at heart" for their shared convictions and ideals.
To understand and to appreciate the significance of Wright's collection of German and Austrian prints, we need first to look at what he would have known of Germany and Austria before he left for Europe in 1910, to consider what was the state of modernism as Wright could have perceived it at that time, and then to look at the conditions in which he made his acquisitions. Within this context, the contents of his print collection begin to make sense.
Chicago, the locus of Wright's training and early independent practice, provided a rich background of German culture. Following the failure of the revolution in Germany in 1848–1849, Germans had immigrated to the United States in large numbers and created a strong cultural presence in the city. Cafes, numerous clubs and organizations, and newspapers, which reported frequently on events in Germany, provided these cultural underpinnings. By 1900, more than 13 percent of the Chicago population was German, and Germans ran almost one-third of the businesses in the city. Wright had clients of German ancestry, including Fred C. Robie, as well as German-born colleagues: the sculptor Richard Bock, the Milwaukee furniture maker and interior designer George M. Niedecken, and the building contractor Paul F. P. Mueller.
Chicago's German-educated architects formed the largest ethnic group in the profession, adding an intellectual component directly connected to the mainstream of German architecture. Sullivan's partner, Dankmar Adler, was one of the members of the second generation of German-born Chicago architects; Wright worked for their firm from 1887 to 1893. When Wright opened his own studio, with an office in Chicago and one at his home in Oak Park, some of his employees, including Walter Burley Griffin and William Drummond, had received training under Nathan Clifford Ricker, who taught with German methods and theories at the University of Illinois.
Architects and artists could augment the broader cultural ambience of Germany and the Old World by travel and study in Europe. Wright turned down an offer to study in France, but some of his colleagues went on study tours. Niedecken studied in London, Berlin, and Paris, and his designs of the early 1900s have Parisian and Austrian decorative motifs.
Newspapers and journals, in particular, provided another important and regular source of information about European currents in modern architecture, contributing to an international flow of information that was far more extensive than most people realize. German-language periodicals were available within Wright's circle: Niedecken maintained runs of periodicals that featured Secessionist architecture. Richard Bock, the sculptor, could translate articles Wright might have wanted to read. Wright himself apparently had a run of Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst und Städtebau. The German-language periodicals Dekorative Kunst and Moderne Bauformen, which were available and eagerly read by Wright's German American contemporaries, would also have informed Wright about work in Austria, Germany, and other "new art" movements.
Wright's other foreign sources included The Studio, a journal that disseminated the art and architecture of Great Britain and the Continent to the international Arts and Crafts movement. Copies of the journal could be found in Wright's office and drafting studios. Published in London, The Studio allowed architects to follow, for instance, the opening of the Vienna Secession in 1899, when the journal reviewed the first exhibition held in the Secession's new building, designed by Joseph Maria Olbrich. In addition to a highly laudatory text, it included an illustration of a portion of a poster of Olbrich's design. Furthermore, already in the 1890s The Studio had published artists whom Wright would collect a decade later, including Gustav Kampmann and Hermann Daur, whose prints appeared as color reproductions in 1896.
A broad view of the art revival in Austria was the subject of an entire special edition of The Studio in 1906, which included the work of Secessionists Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, Olbrich, and Otto Wagner. The introduction to the issue asserted that there was much of general value to be gained from the new "Austrian Revival." Ludwig Hevesi's essay "Modern Painting in Austria" would have given Wright a synopsis of the history of Austrian painting and introduced him to the founders of the Secession, who formally started their activities in April 1897. Carl Moll received high praise as a founder first of the Secession and then of the "New Secession"—a term used to describe the group that formed around Klimt—and as a person having a "crucial role in modeling the art life of Vienna."
In the same issue of The Studio, Wright could have learned of another source of art that interested him, the Society of Reproductive Art (Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst). It maintained that graphic arts had a preeminent role in "the modern style," a concept that was still very much in flux. The core concept of reproductive art was that of producing prints made by someone other than the original artist; the new technologies, particularly photomechanical printing, had moved graphics beyond the limitations of individuals' engraving or copying designs on litho stones. With this approach, prints became more widely available and, in principle, less expensive to buy. The society had published an annual folio starting in 1898, not only of Austrians, but also of German and even British printmakers; eight of the artists whose work was produced by the society would enter Wright's collection.
In the same issue, Wright could have learned more about Austrian modern architecture, since it drew attention to Otto Wagner's publication Moderne Architektur. This treatise was already being studied at the University of Illinois in Ricker's abridged translation, published in the Brickbuilder in 1901, only five years after its original publication.
In The Studio, Wright would also have seen the work of Olbrich and read about the importance of Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte, the company founded to design and produce modern artifacts for everyday use. The Secession artists, as well as a younger generation of artists that included Oskar Kokoschka, made designs for the Werkstätte. Hugo Haberfeld's essay "The Architectural Revival in Austria" mentioned Hoffmann's buildings, begun in 1900, for a villa colony on the Hohe Warte, a plateau in hilly country on the northern outskirts of Vienna. Moll lived in the colony, and the area was the subject of a print by Moll that Wright later bought (see plate A1 in this volume). Moll's winter scene is a view of the elegant quarter on a hill around which he and Koloman Moser, another Secession member, lived in houses that were part of a showcase of designs by Hoffmann. In itself, the print, which had been exhibited that year at the Museum for Art and Industry in Vienna, links Wright to the Secession. The colony's houses were situated within gardens, and the gardens were integrated into the designs of the houses—an integration that Wright had been pursuing in his designs, such as the Darwin D. Martin house in Buffalo, New York, and the Avery and Queene Coonley house in Riverside, Illinois. Haberfeld also mentioned Hoffmann's workmen's hotel at Kladno (now in the Czech Republic) of 1902, and Hoffmann's sanatorium at Purkersdorf, near Vienna, was extensively illustrated; Wright later confirmed that he knew the building from The Studio. The Studio issue of 1906 also featured color and monochrome illustrations of the work of the Wiener Werkstätte, including a bedroom designed by Koloman Moser, designs by Otto Prutscher, and a boudoir by Joseph Urban. In addition, the journal's Annuals, published after 1906, and The Studio Year-Book of Decorative Art provided a means of surveying the latest designs of artifacts and crafts by British, Dutch, German, and Austrian designers. In other British international journals, including the International Studio, Academy Architect, and the Architectural Review, Wright and his peers could see illustrations of Great Britain's leading architects and designers, such as Charles F. A. Voysey, Edwin L. Lutyens, and Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret McDonald-Mackintosh, his wife and collaborator, of Glasgow. Additionally, Wright may have found appealing the work of M. H. Baillie Scott; his designs were as well known as those of Mackintosh, his competitor, and he was much patronized in Germany.
Despite the important and extensive imprint of German culture in Chicago, there has been little study of art dealers in Chicago who sold or exhibited German and Austrian art in the first decade of the twentieth century. Clearly, however, there was a great deal of interest, as demonstrated by two exhibitions at the Art Institute of Chicago. In March 1907, the institute held an exhibition of contemporary German paintings. Organized with considerable effort by the Art Institute and five other museums, the traveling exhibition was intended to stimulate American interest in German art. A broad survey, it included work of the young Adolf Hölzel, who would later become known for his abstract tendencies, as well as established leading figures such as Gustav Schönleber, the Bavarian landscape painter who taught at Karlsruhe, and Hans Thoma, a painter of nature and idyllic scenes. Also among the pictures was a painting by Walter Leistikow, a key figure in the founding of the Berlin Secession. His Hoar Frost was illustrated in the catalogue as well as exhibited. Wright could hardly have missed this exhibition, since it occurred the month before an exhibition at the institute of his own work, organized by the Chicago Architectural Club. In Europe, Wright would buy a reproduction of one Leistikow's important paintings for his own collection.
Two years later, the Art Institute of Chicago hosted a more extensive traveling show, the Exhibition of Contemporary German Art. Held from early April to early May 1909, it was planned originally for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with subsequent venues in Boston, in the building of the Copley Society, and Chicago. As an official project of the imperial government, sanctioned, at least in name, by Kaiser Wilhelm II and utilizing a broad array of sources throughout Germany, the exhibit could have been totally traditional in approach. But there was more variety than expected. For instance, despite the death of Walter Leistikow in July 1908, the exhibition presented his Landscape in Thuringia. The work of other artists shown earlier returned, including Hölzel and Thoma, who was described in the catalogue as "the most German of Painters … a poet, a dreamer." Artists whose work had a more radical orientation included Max Liebermann, a major figure in the Berlin Secession, and Otto Modersohn, an emerging expressionist painter from the Worpswede colony near Bremen. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, Paul Clemen, a professor at the University of Bonn, provided a clear and synoptic view of German art as one wedding traditions of the nineteenth century with innovations of the early twentieth. Capturing the reigning taste of the time, Clemen outlined the heroes as the four great masters of German painting: Adolf von Menzel, Franz von Lenbach, Wilhelm Leibl, and Arnold Böcklin. Clemen did not ignore the various Secessionist movements, even mentioning Die Scholle in Munich, but he asserted that the incendiary phase of the Secessions was over. And in any case, according to the professor, all artists who had gone their own ways were Secessionists. In sum, by the time Wright left for Europe, he could have seen in Chicago examples of German art across the street from his own office.
Another exposure to German and Austrian artistic culture occurred for Wright when he visited the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exhibition of 1904. Appealing to Americans and visitors from abroad, the event, a world's fair, was the city's attempt to compete with Chicago as a gateway to the Wes.After visiting the fair, Wright recommended it to members of his studio in Oak Park as "a liberal experience"; he was so impressed with the German installation that he gave one of his draftsmen train fare to see it.
The exhibitions in St. Louis provided a snapshot of contemporary German architecture and interior design before the visible development of buildings later identified as icons of the German avant-garde in architecture. Instead, at "Deutsches Haus," the main location for exhibits, visitors experienced an eclectic assemblage of parts of historical buildings that attempted to present the true national architecture and history of Germany. The building had an academic plan, symmetrically arranged around an entry hall, with wings flanking main exhibition rooms and a terrace with veranda above it. Wright would have disapproved of its historicizing pose, but its contents could have given him the "liberal experience" he noted.
The leading figure exhibited in the German pavilion was the venerable Bruno Möhring, an architect and urbanist from Berlin. In addition to supervising construction of the pavilion's honor court and exhibition hall, Möhring exhibited his own work and oversaw the design of displays. Wright did not know that the architectural interiors he saw in the German pavilion were by someone not only interested in his own work but also in a position to promote him in Germany.
Wright saw drawings by other architects that gave a sense of design around 1904. Works by fourteen architects hung alongside those by Möhring, including "architectonic sketches," drawings, perspectives, and prints by Olbrich, whose exhibited works were second in number to Möhring's. In addition, Olbrich designed a courtyard and six rooms of a summer residence for the Arts and Crafts display. In the industrial section, Olbrich showed designs for seating, embroidery, and carpets. Of the significant architects whose work he saw at St. Louis, Wright alluded only to Olbrich in his later writings.
Wright could have also viewed the graphic and design work of Peter Behrens, a rising star in Germany and the director of the arts and crafts school at Düsseldorf, who would soon move from artist to architectural designer. In St. Louis, Behrens showed designs for the official German catalogue of the exhibition, which included striking graphics in the current Jugendstil mode: boxed text with frames, paragraph headings marked with frames and glyphs, and the use of colored inks for printing. In the section for books and newspapers, Behrens had additional graphic designs. Wright would also have seen, in the section on interior decoration, Behrens's spatial arrangements of furniture for a salon whose overall artistic direction was overseen by Möhring.
The St. Louis world's fair also reflected the international scope of interest in the Arts and Crafts movement. A number of German collective workshops displayed etching, embroidery, lithography, and bookmaking, which fascinated Wright. Displays ranged from hand processes to the latest technological innovations in printing. Wright had explored typography and book design with his client William Herman Winslow in the late 1890s, and his intense interest in the presentation of his own work would carry over to Wright's German publications. Wright's future publishing firm, Ernst Wasmuth Incorporated, had its own exhibits. It was at the fair, like other firms, to promote its publications.
Like the exhibitors from commerce and industry, publishers, artists, and architects showed their work in an effort to convey German culture. But getting a sense of the latest and most progressive art in Germany was problematic. The Berlin Secession as well as the numerous other Secession groups in Germany voted to boycott the fair in reaction to the efforts of the General German Art Association, the long-standing national arts organization, to control the selection of art entries. For the St. Louis world's fair, the association took a more conservative line, with the result that avant-garde pieces and even work of the best conventional artists was not exhibited.
Austrian artists exhibited also at the St. Louis world's fair. Hoffmann, Klimt's colleague and a founder of the Wiener Werkstätte, had designed an exhibit largely devoted to the work of Klimt, the outstanding figure of the Viennese Secession. But like its German counterpart, the Austrian event was plagued by clashing politics between rival groups in the Secession, so the plans for the Klimt room were canceled, eliminating a chance for a complete exhibition of the best work of the Austrian Secession. But Hoffmann's design for a room for the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts was built. Executed predominantly in black and white, it included display cases, lecterns, tables, and carpets. These would have been among the first examples of artifacts of the Vienna Secession exhibited in America.
Despite the withdrawal of the Secession groups, the fair exposed Wright to many artists whose work he would purchase six years later, including the romantic landscapes of Carl Kayser-Eichberg, Gustav Kampmann, Wilhelm Steinhausen, and Hans Volkmann, as well two images made by the printer, Otto Felsing. Overall, the relationship between art and experience is not a simple matter of influence in which we can attest that seeing an artist in St. Louis caused Wright to buy a print by the same artist later. Instead, visiting the St. Louis world's fair contributed to Wright's sensitivity to Germanic culture long before he experienced it in person.
Within the framework of Germanic culture in America, it is worthwhile to ask more broadly what could Wright have perceived as modern art and modern architecture in 1909 at the outset of his voyage to Europe. Cubism had only recently emerged in the work of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. The introductory exhibition of early modernism, Manet and the Post-Impressionists, at the Grafton Galleries in London, would not occur for another year, 1910–1911. The famous Armory Show, the International Exhibition of Modern Art—which was organized by the Association of American Painters and Sculptors, held in New York, and shown also in Chicago and Boston—would not take place until 1913. Although Fauvism had had its pinnacle between 1904 and 1908, it still invigorated some artists across the Continent. Drawing on the vibrancy of color and form in Postimpressionism and Fauvism, German expressionism had erupted only in 1905 in the work of artists in Dresden and Munich, with some extensions to Austria. Its appearance coexisted with rebellions by other artists in places such as Karlsruhe and Darmstadt; painters in the former, though never forming a coherent movement, eventually took primary positions in the history of modern twentieth-century art, while many of those in the latter city receded to a second, forgotten, tier. For both groups, printmaking was a primary mode of communication. But it was the work of the alternate contemporary artists that appealed to Wright, with its soothing, though often moody, renditions of landscape, and not the graphic intensity of violence and eros found in much expressionist work. Abstraction, as developed by the Russian Kasimir Malevich, had not yet fully emerged. Simultaneously, the anxieties and malaise of the modern condition propelled other artists to try and hold on to dwindling tradition in an effort to seek continuity, not rupture, with academic practices.
In architecture, the definition of the modern was still in flux. In America, Wright and his peers could identify with their own movement, the New School of the Midwest, inspired by Louis Sullivan, as a counter to the status quo represented by practitioners of the methods of the École des Beaux-Arts. For the midwesterners, their architecture was modern, though the term was unused, because it was new, technologically innovative, and represented the identity of American democracy. Design reform movements on the Continent and England had already resulted in efforts to coordinate production with forms that reflected the logic of contemporary materials and social life in the context of industrialization. In Germany, efforts to compete internationally brought designers, architects, and business people together to found the Deutscher Werkbund in Berlin in 1907. Though preceded by numerous similar reform efforts, the Werkbund's debates and programs provided one of the foundations for what would become known as the modern movement. The early signature buildings of the modern movement were, however, only about to appear: Behrens's AEG Turbine Factory (1909), Walter Gropius and Adolf Meyer's Fagus Shoe Last Factory at Alfeld (1911), and their Werkbund exhibition pavilion in Cologne (1914). Furthermore, the debates and explorations, with their ardor, enthusiasm, and tensions, were taking place before the crystallization of the Neues Bauen (the new building), the forerunner of the International Style in the 1920s.
By the 1890s, Art Nouveau in France and Belgium had generated variations in Germany, Spain, Italy, and Austria-Hungary, but in Europe, its star was fading around 1900. Additionally, in Austria-Hungary a vast array of modern buildings differed from those being developed in Germany. With the exception of the Scot Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose work was exhibited with the Secessionists of Vienna, England's progressivism was imbedded in the domestic idiom of the free style handsomely developed by Lutyens, Voysey, and others. Despite the fact that August Perret had given a modern emphasis to structure and concrete, France greeted the tectonic expression of his Théatre des Champs-Élysées in Paris with outrage for being too Germanic in appearance. Antoni Gaudi was performing romantic and rationalist experiments in Barcelona. Filippo Marinetti announced the rhetoric of Italian futurism in Le Figaro in February 1909.
Multiple Secession movements, artists' collectives, and new schools were calling for attitudes and images that broke with the past. While the Secession movements in Berlin and Vienna were of particular interest to Wright, numerous other groups had emerged in Germany, Austria, and Central Europe. In Germany alone there were secession groups in Munich, Dresden, Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, and Weimar. A revolt was occurring in art, literature, and criticism. Stultified academies and artistic dogma were under siege. An interest in iconoclastic lifestyles emerged, often fueled by unorthodox political points of view, from socialism to utopianism. Idealism was reflected in communal artistic efforts to form collective studios. At the same time, despair and melancholy drove the art of some artists, propelling the wide-ranging tendencies of expressionism.
One reaction had occurred in a rebellious group of artists within the Genossenschaft bildender Künstler Wiens, the official arts organization founded in Vienna in 1861 and known as the Künstlerhaus from the name of its exhibition building on the Karlsplatz. In April 1897, after arguing about who and what to send to exhibitions in Dresden and Munich, a group of young artists withdrew to form the Vereinigung Bildender Künstler Österreichs, the Association of Visual Artists, their own club within the venerable organization. Klimt was elected president, and young painters, architects, and multitalented designers joined. In late May 1897, the group severed itself from the Künstlerhaus and became known as the Vienna Secession.
The Vienna Secession developed two vehicles to disseminate its ideas and work: the art magazine Ver Sacrum and their own specially designed exhibition building. Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), which published its first issue in January 1898, was itself an art object that united art, graphics, literature, and texts with a broad spectrum of authors. Found widely in Europe until it ceased publication 1903, it was a vehicle for the types of artists Wright would assemble in his print collection. A core concept was the modernist belief in a zeitgeist, that the spirit of an age can be reflected in its art, which presupposes a spirituality in art itself. Implicit in the minds of rebellious artists was the supposition that the rebirth of art was integral to changes in society: new forms in art required new forms of mass society, and conversely, new democratic and socialist societies required their own distinctive expressions of art. The view that class structure needed restructuring apparently motivated Hermann Bahr, the poet and "herald" of the Secession: he took working-class people on tours of the Secession building to show them they could be proud of their own handwork. The admirers of the Secession, however, were increasingly middle class.
The Secession building by Olbrich, located on the Parkring in the center of Vienna near the Karlsplatz, synthesized archaic iconography in its massing of Egyptian pylons and its surface treatments, with a new kind of free interior plan that allowed for maximum flexibility. A temple of art that opened in March 1898, it was highly controversial. Nevertheless, it hosted successful and innovative exhibitions. In 1902, the fourteenth Secession event, known as the Beethoven Exhibition, represented the combined efforts of architects, painters, and sculptors to create a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art); it was seen by almost 60,000 visitors during its three-month run. In the following year, the Vienna Secession presented The Development of Impressionism in Painting and Sculpture, which attempted to show by historical and scholarly analysis how artists ranging from Tintoretto, Rubens, Vermeer, and Goya, among others, to Cézanne, Manet, Monet, and Van Gogh were part of a modern tradition.
Two challenges that applied to all artists, critics, and collectors involved with these thrusts toward modernity would affect Wright's perception of what was modern: the problems of contemporaneity and time lag. The first concerns the cultural phenomena that make it difficult or impossible to know with certainty what precisely defines artistic developments of the moment. Swimming in the sea of culture, a person knows he or she is immersed in something, but the name and character of the ocean is elusive. With the passage of time, history provides names to the events that formerly surrounded us. For Wright, the period around 1910 was transitional: the various strains of Arts and Crafts from England and Jugendstil from Germany, Austria, and Holland had been assimilated and were already declining. The incipient movements in art and architecture conventionally associated with modernism were still in formation, and the fluidity of the situation made it difficult to discern where one development ended and another began.
Adding to this fluidity was the cultural time lag between Europe and America. Avant-garde movements in Europe sometimes peaked just before they appeared abroad and sometimes declined in Europe as they soared to recognition in America. While varieties of Art Nouveau and Jugendstil had reached a stylistic pinnacle in Europe by 1904, and reactions against them had started occurring, they still had appeal in America as a viable modern expression. Wright encountered the influence of the art and architecture of the Secession movement after its apex; his adaptation of the ideas at the end of the movement represented a displacement in historical time rather than a set of simultaneous developments. The pinnacle of the Austrian Secession had occurred in April 1902 with the fourteenth exhibition of the Secession, honoring Beethoven, and the Secession split apart in 1905, with fourteen or fifteen members seceding to form a group around Klimt. For Wright, the cutting edge of the avant-garde of modernism was not found in cubism or expressionist art but in the Secession movements. This was Wright's reference point for what was modern in architecture and, by association, what defined modern in art. Like Wright and his peers in Chicago, these artists were rebelling against tradition.
Frank Lloyd Wright sailed into this frenzy of modernism in late 1909. The only way for Wright to grasp fully the character of modern art and architecture in Europe was to see the work firsthand. Three factors contributed to his visit: the need to revive his career; an opportunity to publish his work with Wasmuth Verlag; and the need to escape the domestic turmoil that was tearing his family apart.
The first factor that played a role was creative exhaustion. The prodigious output of his prairie period had begun to wind down, and Wright needed a change of scene to revitalize his career. Lack of work in 1908 combined with a creative and emotional exhaustion that Wright acknowledged in his Autobiography: "Weary, I was losing grip on my work and even my interest in it. … Because I did not know what I wanted I wanted to go away. Why not go to Germany and prepare the material for the Wasmuth Monograph? … I looked longingly in that direction." As he elaborated, Germany and Vienna had always had an allure: "I had always loved old Germany, Goethe, Schiller, Nietzsche, Bach—the great architect who happened to choose music for his form—Beethoven and Strauss. And Munich! This beloved company—were they not old Germany? And Vienna! Vienna had always appealed to my imagination. Paris? Never."
The second factor provided a solution to the doldrums of Wright's career: suddenly, the prospect for travel became real when the publishing house of Ernst Wasmuth, "the greatest art publishing house in the world," according to Wright, suggested in 1908 that he come to Berlin. The ultimate result would be a compendium of his built work in a small book of photographs and drawings, Frank Lloyd Wright: Ausgeführte Bauten, and a sumptuous two-folio monograph of his buildings and projects, Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright. The monograph, commonly known as Wright's Wasmuth folios, had a significant and complex role in the evolution of twentieth-century modern architecture.
Wasmuth Verlag had been founded in 1871, and by the time of its incorporation in 1903, it not only produced books on architecture but sold art as well. Wasmuth's subjects included archaeology, architecture, art, crafts, costumes, and ornament. The press was publisher of the crafts collection of the imperial Arts and Crafts Museum of Berlin and publisher to the imperial Prussian government. It also published important architecture periodicals that were familiar to Wright's European contemporaries and even to Chicago architects and designers: Architektur des XX Jahrhunderts, Berliner Architekturwelt, Charakteristische Details von ausgeführten Bauwerken, Der Städtebau, and the Wasmuths Monatshefte. Wasmuth also sold lithographs, heliographs—reproductions that came from hand- or high-speed presses—and photographs. By 1904, the firm had 150 people on its staff and had won fifteen prize medals for its work.
Wright believed that Kuno Francke, a German-born professor at Harvard, had recommended him to Wasmuth, but Wright never knew with certainty. Francke, who was, for part of his life, the most distinguished Germanist in America, played a significant role in promoting cultural exchanges between Germany and America. But contrary to Wright's assumption, there was a more direct connection with the Wasmuth publishing empire, whom Wright had apparently forgotten: Bruno Möhring, the Berlin architect who had come to St. Louis in 1904 to direct the general organization of the German exhibition at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition.
In addition to having a major architecture practice, Möhring was also a city planner, a writer, and an editor of two Wasmuth journals, including the Berliner Architekturwelt, which sponsored the series of special publications, or Sonderhefte, in which Wright's book of photographs, Ausgeführte Bauten, would appear. Möhring's own designs had appeared in 1902 as the second volume of the Sonderhefte series. He was also an editor of the Wasmuths Monatshefte, and his buildings and projects appeared in it along with those of other contemporary German architects.
Furthermore, during his visit to the United States, Möhring went to Wright's studio in the spring of 1904. The distinguished architect sought out Wright in Oak Park, yet Wright apparently never knew that Möhring had come to visit him and see his architecture. Although he did not meet Wright, Möhring had direct contact with Wright's work as a result of his trip and would have been able to inform the Wasmuth publishing empire about the American.
The third motivation for Wright to travel to Europe arose from his wanting to escape the confines of marriage and flee to Europe with his lover, Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Wright had designed a house for her and her husband, Edwin H. Cheney, in Oak Park in 1903. More highly educated than many of her peers, she had graduated from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor with a strong interest in literature, a bachelor of arts, and a master of arts. She had been head of the public library in Port Huron, Michigan, where she met Cheney, her future husband. He became president of the Wagner Electric Manufacturing Company and the Fuel Engineering Company of Chicago, and was, thus, like some of Wright's other clients, an entrepreneur in fields relating to engineering. The Wrights and the Cheneys had shared a social life in Oak Park. Mamah Cheney and Catherine Wright even belonged to the same civic organizations. But around 1907, an attraction between Wright and Mamah Cheney evolved into a love affair, and by 1909, Catherine Tobin Wright knew she was losing her husband.
For Wright, the pressure began to disintegrate his home: "Everything, personal or otherwise, bore heavily upon me. Domesticity most of all. What I wanted I did not know. I loved my children. I loved my home. A true home is the finest ideal of man, and yet—well, to gain freedom I asked for a divorce.1 Catherine Wright replied by requesting that he wait a year before it was granted, but after a year, she refused to allow the divorce. Wright's desire to "desert," which he had described privately, became more intense, and he decided to take matters into his own hands. He began making plans to leave his work and his family and travel to Europe.
On 20 September 1909, Wright left Oak Park and boarded a train for Chicago on the first segment of his journey to Europe. Then and later, Wright was reticent about how his experiences in Europe affected him personally. Defying social convention and seeking refuge, love, and spiritual sustenance, he wanted his activities to remain unknown to the world. Secrecy was necessary in order to avoid scandal. With the exception of a few comments in his autobiographical writings, Wright covered his tracks. No journals or passport exist to mark his comings and goings, and only a few extant letters indicate his motivations and plans. His print collection therefore provides one of the few documentary sources of his taste and thinking at that time.
It is clear, however, that when Wright began to travel in Europe, he had the opportunity to see firsthand the great monuments of Roman, medieval, and Gothic architecture and contemporary art and design. He saw the capitals of Europe—London, Berlin, Vienna, and Paris—and he saw the cities en route to the capitals as well as vernacular buildings of the countryside in Tuscany, Bavaria, and the valley of the Rhine. He also had the chance to see contemporary art—paintings, sculpture, and prints—as well as craft objects, furniture, murals, and textiles he previously knew only from illustrations. What he saw provided the artistic inspiration that allowed his practice to enter a rich, experimental period upon his return from Europe. He even found moral support for his future in the writings of Ellen Key, the Swedish feminist who argued for relationships sanctioned by love, not marriage, and for the liberation of children.
Wright and Mamah Cheney, furtive lovers, were intent on avoiding publicity. Wright's explanation for his departure was that he had an opportunity to publish his work in Germany. No mention was made publicly that he was leaving with Mamah Cheney, but both Catherine Wright and Edwin Cheney, as well as their common friends, knew of the lovers' plans. Mamah Cheney had left her husband in Oak Park on 28 June 1909 and taken her two children to Boulder, Colorado, to spend time with a pregnant friend. The friend died after childbirth in early October, and Mamah sent for her husband to pick up their children. When he arrived, she had departed. They met apparently in October after Wright's departure from Oak Park on 20 September, staying in New York City at the Plaza Hotel. No precise date of their sailing has been determined, but they arrived in Berlin in late October or the very beginning of November 1909.
The couple's happy escape did not last long. A reporter from the Chicago Daily Tribune discovered on 7 November 1909 that "Frank Lloyd Wright and Wife" had registered at the sumptuous Hotel Adlon in Berlin but had left three days earlier. Realizing that Catherine Wright had stayed in Oak Park, the reporter broke the cover of the lovers. In Chicago, the Tribune trumpeted on its front page that the couple had deserted their families and that Frank Lloyd Wright had made "an affinity tangle … unparalleled even in the checkered history of soul mating." Other reports that appeared in Chicago about the runaway couple humiliated them.
To throw reporters and any other pursuers off his track, Wright announced that the couple was off to Japan. He and Mamah Cheney then dropped out of sight. Submerged in secrecy, they left almost no traces, and the date of their departure from Berlin is unknown. Wright signed a contract with the firm of Ernst Wasmuth, his Berlin publisher, on 24 November, but there is no evidence of his whereabouts until January 1910, when he was in Paris.
Wright and Cheney visited Germany at the pinnacle of a rich cultural exchange between America and Europe, an exchange that would be damaged by World War I. German art was amply available for American visitors. Besides the traditional artists represented in museums, Karl Baedeker's guide to Berlin pointed out artists who were considered to have led the recent counterhistorical movements, including those who had exhibited in Chicago: the painter, etcher, and lithographer Max Liebermann and Walter Leistikow. A broad reaction against historicist styles had emerged in the work of sculptors and painters, among whom were Otto Eckmann, Bruno Paul, Emil Orlik, and Behrens. They and others were leading developments that had particular importance for the design of crafts and household artifacts. Behrens, whose work had been exhibited at the St. Louis world's fair, was now the in-house designer of the industrial giant Allgemeine Elektricitäts Gesellschaft (AEG). Paralleling Wright's ambitions to create the total built environment, or Gesamtkunstwerk, he was in the process of designing everything from factories to desk lamps. On the other hand, Wright never mentioned the Turbine Hall that Behrens had designed in the Berlin suburb of Moabit for AEG, even though its opening in October 1909 was the most significant architectural event of the year.
Wright also made no mention of Behrens's studio, the most progressive in Berlin, which in 1910 provided work for three young men who would become major figures in modern architecture: Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (later Le Corbusier). Among the myths surrounding the history of the Wasmuth folios is the claim that the young architects who worked at various times in Behrens's office met Wright, but close scrutiny of the dates involved shows that neither Mies van der Rohe nor Jeanneret was in Behrens's office while Wright was in Berlin. The temptation to maintain that such meetings occurred is fostered by one of the claims in the myth of Wright's influence on Europeans: that an exhibition was held in Berlin around 1910 to introduce Wright's work. Instead of an "exhibition," the only recorded event at which Wright's drawings were shown was a lecture by Bruno Möhring on 16 February 1910 before the Association of Berlin Architects.
The four pioneers of the modern movement all spent part of 1910 in Berlin, but Wright never met the other three, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Jeanneret. As Wright recalled, "Later, in 1910 … I found only the rebellious 'Secession' in full swing. I met no architects." Except for the positive comments about German art schools that he made in his introduction to the Wasmuth monograph, Wright mentioned only one architect: Joseph Olbrich.
Wright stated in retrospect that a colleague at Wasmuth Verlag had brought his attention to Olbrich: "When I came to Europe in 1909 only one architect interested me, Joseph Maria Olbrich, for his work at Darmstadt." Wright reiterated his interest in the context of his publishing venture: "I remember Herr Dorn, major-domo of the world-famous Wasmuth Publishing House of Berlin once introduced me, when I first arrived, as 'the Olbrich of America.' Curiosity aroused, I went to Darmstadt to see Olbrich, only to find that the famous German architect had just passed away." More than likely, he had already known of Olbrich from The Studio and had identified the Austrian as his only competition. Born in 1867, the same year as Wright, Olbrich had been as close to Otto Wagner, his mentor, as Wright had been to Louis Sullivan. To Wright, he and Olbrich were both stars in the firmament of architecture. As young architects, both were chief draftsmen in their respective offices, and each had a close relationship to the senior architect: they were the pencils in the hands of the masters and absorbed their lessons sufficiently to launch their own careers. Olbrich had designed the Secession building in Vienna 1898, and then had been lured from Vienna to Darmstadt the following year. Also, Wright and Olbrich now had the same German publisher, Ernst Wasmuth, which had published Olbrich's folios in the same series in which Wright's were to appear. When Wright returned to America and published a prospectus about his Wasmuth monograph, he compared his own work to that of Olbrich.
At Darmstadt, Wright had the opportunity to view Olbrich's work in context instead of reconstructed in parts, as he had seen it at the St. Louis world's fair. The Matildenhöhe was a hill at the end of the town and the locus of an ambitious project, commissioned by Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse, to create an artists' colony that would revive arts and crafts as they had been revived in Vienna. The grand duke had brought Olbrich, a star of the Secession, to Darmstadt to design the buildings of the colony and to act as its artistic director. Olbrich was joined by other artists, including Behrens, who resided at the colony until 1903, when he left to head the arts and crafts school at Düsseldorf before his meteoric rise as an architect in Berlin. Several permanent and temporary buildings had been constructed. During Wright's visit, the most significant extant structures were the communal studio building, named the Ernst Ludwig Haus in honor of its patron; the permanent exhibition building; and the Wedding Tower, which was finished in 1908, two years before Wright's visit. Olbrich's work at the Matildenhöhe in Darmstadt gave Wright a preview of the work of the architects and artists of the Viennese Secession—particularly their use of geometric ornament and lyrical symbolism—from one of their former leaders.
In addition to seeing the translation of developments of the Viennese Secession into the architecture of the Matildenhöhe, Wright also visited the nearby ancient castles along the Rhine Valley. From the description he gave in July 1910, Wright appears to have had delightful travels along the Rhine from Cologne to Coblenz. The romantic, picturesque valley would have evoked for Wright the castles of fairy tales and romantic fables that he read as a child. Germany's castles on the Rhine, Karl Friedrich Schinkel's neoclassical buildings in Potsdam, and Olbrich's Wedding Tower in Darmstadt interested Wright, but he made no reference to living architects in any of his writings.
While there are no documents to confirm Wright's whereabouts from early November through December 1909, collateral evidence shows that he and Mamah Cheney were in Paris in mid-January 1910. Although Wright later claimed that Paris had never appealed to his imagination, he made two trips to the City of Light, one at the beginning of his European sojourn, the other at the end.
In Paris in January 1910, Wright and Cheney temporarily parted when she traveled to Sweden to meet Ellen Key, the Swedish writer and feminist. Welcoming her as a "daughter," Key made Cheney her official English-language translator. Key (1849–1926) had gained a controversial status for her feminist writings on marriage, women, and liberation of children, and she was very much discussed in Germany and Austria3 The role of youth for the future must have been a topic of conversation for Cheney and Wright, whose own children had been left in America, and Cheney's translations of Key's writings became a preoccupation for the couple when they were reunited in Italy, as well as an important defense of their behavior. Left alone in Paris, Wright then witnessed the depressing results of floods that caused buildings to collapse, streets to cave in, and sections of the subway system to be destroyed that winter.
Wright's grim experience in Paris may have been countered by his arrival in Italy, where he began the work of preparing his Wasmuth publications. By March 1910, Wright had settled in Florence without Mamah, who returned to Germany and entered the University of Leipzig as a teacher of languages. In Florence, two draftsmen whom Wright had asked to come from America helped him prepare drawings for the Wasmuth monograph. One was Taylor Woolley, "a sensitive draughtsman, a Mormon from Salt Lake City, and though lame, … active, helpful, and a hard worker." A twenty-six-year-old architect, Woolley had worked for Wright in Oak Park for a year until June 1909 and was one of the last of Wright's former staff. The second draftsman was Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright's nineteen-year-old son. When leaving Oak Park in the fall of 1909, Wright had asked Lloyd to withdraw from the University of Wisconsin to assist in the Wasmuth project. When Lloyd Wright arrived in Florence, he found Woolley and his father settled into a villino called "Fortuna," situated just below the Piazzale Michelangelo.
The preparations for the plates of the Wasmuth monograph show how immersed Wright was in the graphic representation of his designs as works of art. The architect and his two assistants redrew all existing renderings so that they would be at a uniform scale in the folios, and they made new drawings, as required, using sketches, working drawings, and photographs. At least ten of the drawings were copied from photographs that had been published as a summation of Wright's work in Architectural Record in 1908. The drawings, shipped from Chicago, were "a mixed lot": watercolors; sketches by "various Chicago men" (probably professional renderers) and office draftsmen; line drawings with elaborated landscape foliage by Marion Mahony, a brilliant renderer who had worked for Wright; and Wright's own drawings, which, according to Lloyd Wright, showed "the influence of two very different sources—the Japanese prints and the pen drawings filled with sunlight, by Vierge," a nineteenth-century Spanish etcher and illustrator.
Wright and his draftsmen had to correlate plates with descriptive texts and to reconstruct some designs. Their basic problem was one of unifying the diverse styles and approaches of the drawings: "modifying, building up, corrections, simplifying, and converting all of the material into the totally coordinated plates.""Corrections" implied, however, that at times, liberties were taken to adjust compositions to suit Wright's pictorial tastes, as in the perspective drawing of the Robie House, which showed the living room one bay shorter than it actually was. They redrew the drawings, using crow quills with ink on tracing paper, to a regular and consistent format. During the preparation of the drawings, Wright made a number of trips of several days' duration to Germany to consult with Wasmuth and to see Mamah Cheney. When completed, the drawings were taken to Germany, where they were photographed, transferred to lithographic stones, and printed in proofs. The titles were added by hand later, and the multiple steps required provided ample opportunity for mistakes to be made. Some of the designs would be printed on delicate tissue overlays, a common practice.105 Wright's monogram—a square—was embossed on some of the plates as a signature.
In the spring of 1910, Wright transferred his temporary atelier and residence to the nearby village of Fiesole. Work continued on preparing the publications, and in the late spring or early summer, he went to Leipzig and returned with Mamah Cheney to the romantic ambience of the ancient town. Fiesole, five miles to the northeast of Florence, could be reached in three-quarters of an hour by electric tram, the first of its kind in Europe. The town had been historically the stronghold of independent rebels and a place of ancient origins. It was here in a lofty aerie called the Villa Belvedere, located on the Viale Giuseppe Verdi, that rebellious Wright and Cheney found temporary safety from a prying public. And from here Cheney studied Swedish and Italian and translated Key's works, which were later published in Chicago. Woolley described Mamah as "one of the loveliest women I ever knew." The affection was mutual; she gave him two dictionaries—the tools of her trade as a translator—as mementos when he left.
As preparation of the Wasmuth monograph neared its final stages at the villa in May, Wright began to assess his personal situation. By mid-June 1910, with most of the work complete, Wright released Woolley and Lloyd from their project. After traveling in Italy, Lloyd and Woolley set out by train to Switzerland and Germany. During this time, the two young men had a chance to see the architecture that had appeared modern to them, including late Jugendstil and Secessionist buildings. Two photographs of views, taken by Woolley (or possibly by Lloyd), show the typical interiors of this version of modern architecture. Woolley set out on his own, and Lloyd met his father in Paris during the midsummer of 1910, the architect's second visit to the city. In early July 1910, Wright wrote to Charles Robert Ashbee, a leading British Arts and Crafts architect and a friend: "I shall come to see you on my way—early in September. My contract with Wasmuth in Berlin will keep me until then."
Meanwhile in July, Woolley, who was still traveling in Germany, telegrammed Wright from Berlin to say that he had been to see Wasmuth and that unspecified troubles there were preventing any chance of an early completion of the publications. Wright was out of Fiesole between 8 July and 20 July, when the telegram arrived, but upon his return, answered Woolley about the status of the project. By this time, all the plates had been finished except one of the Harley Bradley house, which Wright stated that he himself would retrace.
Plans proceeded for Wright's visit to England in September 1910. His funds were shrinking, and he was growing impatient with the idyllic life. His frustration with Wasmuth also was mounting because of problems with production: the pace of producing the monograph and the picture book was too slow for Wright, and he objected to someone besides himself writing the introduction to the former.
From Wright's account, we have always assumed that publishing the monograph was Wasmuth's main intention, but Wright's letters to a few close friends reveal that Wasmuth's original interest had been to produce a book of pictures as a photographic essay of Wright's work for its series of special publications, or Sonderhefte, with Wasmuth retaining ownership. Wright had proposed an additional book, a monograph that would present the graphic ideal of his work. The book of photographs would show the actual built work, and both books would appear simultaneously as a pair. For the monograph, seventy-three buildings were to be illustrated in one hundred plates; twelve proofs had been pulled, but printing of the better projects had not yet been finished. Wright blamed the slowness on the publishing house, but the tardy arrival of the photographs for his Sonderheft had interfered with Wasmuth's publishing schedule, and the books would not be available until the beginning of January 1911. Frustrated by the delays, Wright contemplated finding a new publisher, but decided patience was needed. Five weeks remained to contemplate the return home. Before his departure from Europe, however, Wright journeyed to Vienna.
The precise dates of Wright's travels between Fiesole, Berlin, the valleys of Germany, and Vienna may never be firmly established. In the summer, while in and out of Fiesole, Wright traveled in Bavaria, near the Tirol mountains west of Vienna, to see the Passion play at Oberammergau, the famous performance of the story of Christ's suffering during Holy Week. Wright and Cheney could have continued from there to Vienna by train. Furthermore, the summer months were a logical time for their visit—the work on the Wasmuth folios was substantially complete, and the couple had been reunited in Fiesole. Wright left no official trace in Vienna; the city's archives have no record of his visit. There is evidence, however, that confirms a journey to Vienna in the last moments of its cultural power as the capital of Austria-Hungary.
In Vienna, Wright was in the ambiance of Otto Wagner, the revered modern architect and mentor of Olbrich and his peers. Whether Wright met Wagner is unknown, but Wright spoke highly of him and knew him well enough to have his address three years later when Wright's son John considered studying in Vienna.Wagner, at the age of seventy, was at the end of his career as a practitioner and a teacher at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts, one of the few schools where Wright considered the principles of a new architecture could be pursued. Before Wagner stopped teaching entirely, he acknowledged Wright's work in 1911 as it appeared in the Wasmuth Sonderheft, telling his students, "Gentlemen, today I have something special. This man knows more than I do." Wagner was especially impressed with the Larkin Building and Unity Temple.
While in Vienna, Wright also apparently met some of the distinguished architects who had studied under Wagner, including Hoffmann, the driving force of the Wiener Werkstätte. Wright probably saw the showrooms of the Werkstätte, replete with the objects he had previously seen illustrated in The Studio; while there, he bought a rug that resembled his carpet design for the Coonley house.
In addition to viewing the Secession building and the Wiener Werkstätte, Wright would have seen the Kunstschau building, in which the Klimt group had held its own exhibitions after its split with the Secession; its architecture embodied ancient motifs and sculptural treatments that Wright later used. Designed as a temporary pavilion in 1907 by Hoffmann and built in 1908, the building was the subject of much attention. The first Kunstschau exhibition, in 1908, focused on Viennese art. The second exhibition, in 1909, was an international exhibition featuring the work of Edvard Munch and Vincent Van Gogh as well as the Arts and Crafts architects Mackintosh, Voysey, and Wright's friend Ashbee. It also included the sculpture of the German Franz Metzner, Hoffmann's colleague, who was considered by some art critics even more important than Klimt. Wright met Metzner, and the meeting became instrumental in Wright's development of "conventionalization," a theory of abstracting nature for artistic purposes.
The second Kunstschau exhibition closed before Wright's arrival, but talk of it must have persisted. Although the pavilion complex had begun to be demolished, its remains were probably still visible in 1910. The building provided a powerful link between the architecture of the Secession and Wright's work upon his return to Chicago: its sculptures were the models for Wright's figures at Midway Gardens.
Finally, Wright had contact with the work of Gustav Klimt, the leading artistic personality of the Secession, whom he greatly admired. Nothing confirms that Wright met the artist, who spent his summers outside Vienna, but Wright reported later that the exposure to Klimt's art had "refreshed" him. Klimt's work in 1910 was visible in a number of international exhibitions: the ninth Biennale in Venice; the German Künstlerbund in Prague; and the exhibition Drawing Arts in Berlin. Locally, his work could be seen at the Galerie Miethke, whose director was Carl Moll. In addition to his role as cultural impresario, Moll was a cofounder of the Secession, its president from 1900 to 1901, and an important collaborator until his departure with the Klimt group in 1905. Eight of Klimt's paintings, principally landscapes, were on sale at the gallery, and a ninth was exhibited from a private collection; drawings on the walls and in the windows complemented the paintings.
The regenerative power of Klimt's work so impressed Wright that he later obtained two important and rare folios of the artist's woodblock work, Das Werk von Gustav Klimt and Gustav Klimt: Fünfundzwanzig Handzeichnungen. In addition, he later received as a gift, and owned for many years, Klimt's Alte Frau, a dark, foreboding painting thought by Klimt scholars to have been lost. Whether Wright met Moll, or saw the art at the Galerie Miethke, remains unconfirmed.
Having concluded his travels in the summer of 1910, Wright made plans to return alone to America; Mamah Cheney would stay in Europe. Wright spent early September in Berlin, consulting with his publisher, and then traveled to Chipping Campden, in Gloucestershire, and stayed with the Ashbees. By mid-September 1910, Wright's first journey to Europe was at its end. The year abroad had provided a temporary escape from a difficult personal family situation, allowing him to summarize his own architecture systematically through the Wasmuth publications and to encounter, through Cheney's translations, the feminist ideology of Ellen Key. Berlin, where he transacted business with his publisher, had been a place of frustration; Paris, a brief interlude; Italy, his refuge; Vienna, his touchstone.
The most immediate demonstrable result of his travels was the collation of his work in a graphic format for the Wasmuth folios, a monograph superior to the published treatment afforded any contemporary American or European architect. He had also assembled a book of photographs of built work that would become his Sonderheft. He had seen the capitals of Europe and some of the latest modern architecture in them. In the countryside, he had experienced vernacular buildings and landscapes whose images were the subject of prints he bought by Secession artists. He had confronted in person aspects of the historical legacy of Western architecture, and had begun to write about his reactions to it for his Wasmuth introduction.
After traveling for the remainder of the summer, Wright returned alone to America, arriving in Oak Park on 8 October 1910. The work on Wright's own great graphic-art production was finished, but his introduction was incomplete, and he needed to make an installment payment to Wasmuth Verlag for production costs. In early November 1910, after printing 4,000 copies of the small Sonderheft for distribution in America, the publisher sent Wright three advance copies, demanded payment for the picture book, and announced that the folios were ready except for the introduction—but Wright delayed in paying. After a series of mistakes, errors, and confusions, Wright's publishing venture with Wasmuth Verlag collapsed. Wright decided that the quality of the Sonderheft, which he had previously described as "fine," was unsatisfactory. He had high standards for the representation of his work, and in his opinion, Wasmuth had printed the illustrations so cheaply that they did not rise above the murky pictures that had appeared in the 1908 Architectural Record. There were additional problems: the publisher had difficulty understanding Wright's introduction, and Wright had found errors, including misidentified plates. When he informed Wasmuth that he was rejecting the edition, Wasmuth stopped printing the folios and halted the entire project.
Wright prepared a revised edition for the Sonderheft and tried to sort out the problems in Berlin via cablegram. Then, in early January 1911, concluding that a face-to-face confrontation with the managers of Wasmuth Verlag in Berlin was necessary, he began preparations for a second trip to Germany to negotiate a new contract. Few people knew that he also intended at the trip's conclusion to bring back Mamah Cheney, who had remained in Europe.
Wright's second trip to Germany, never mentioned in his Autobiography or elsewhere, took place in even greater secrecy than his first voyage. He departed from New York on the cruise ship RMS Lusitania on 16 January 1911, or shortly thereafter, leaving behind his estranged wife. Wright took advantage of the shock of his unannounced arrival in Berlin to clear up all the problems with his publisher. He also brought with him a revised dummy for the Sonderheft, which he had designed in Oak Park. Wright's negotiations succeeded, and by 13 February 1911, he had revised his contract. Negotiations with Wasmuth concluded, Wright grew impatient to depart for America. Arriving in America with Mamah, probably in late March 1911, Wright returned to Oak Park from Germany a second time.
Briefly, from 1911 through summer 1914, Wright designed a home near the ancestral farms of his relatives in Spring Green, Wisconsin, for himself and Mamah, who assumed her maiden name, Borthwick, upon receiving a divorce. From this abode, which Wright named "Taliesin" ("Shining Brow" in Welsh), Wright and Borthwick set out to publish the feminist tracts of Ellen Key, idealistic and naïve efforts that met with public scorn. And from Taliesin, Wright set out about resurrecting his architectural practice as well as coordinating the marketing by mail order of his Wasmuth publications. His work, manifested in major commissions for the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and Midway Gardens in Chicago, explored new uses of ornament, abstracted sculpture, and symbolic representation that placed him within the art movement of primitivism. Like many of the Secessionists in Vienna at the turn of the century, he found in the origins of non-Western culture a pure language of form, untainted and fit for the basis of modern artistic culture. In the private sphere, though, Wright's wife would still not grant him a divorce. Despite the great personal risk the lovers had taken, their life appeared to continue normally until 15 August 1914, when a deranged servant murdered Mamah, two of her children, and four of Wright's employees. The tragic and dramatic events, providing fodder for sensationalist romance novels even today, culminated a phase of Wright's life. Wright wrote of the tragedy in his Autobiography, but the print collection that he and Mamah had assembled receded into a place of silence. This collection, one of the few traces of his European venture, became a hidden testimony to a unique adventure in life and art.
But where, when, and from whom did he buy these graphic images? Before proceeding, a caveat is necessary: Wright probably did not purchase these prints alone. More than likely, they were a joint endeavor between Mamah Cheney and Wright, and it is conceivable that she alone selected them. She was a sophisticated woman—multilingual and more formally educated than Wright—so this being her collection, which Wright inherited, is not out of the question. Until further documentation confirms these details, it is fair to refer to them as Wright's collection, since he held on to them for the next fifty years. Their similar formats and range of dates suggest that the prints were bought at once or on a few occasions rather than collected piecemeal. When and where Wright and Cheney bought their prints remains unknown, but 1910 is a plausible year; Hans von Volkmann's print Schlenke Bäume is signed and dated 17 August 1910, suggesting it was purchased in August or later. Although Wright saw himself as a print collector because of his experience with Japanese woodblock prints, he never mentioned visiting print rooms in Europe where works could be viewed. With limited time, he was more in the mood to buy than to study. According to O. P. Reed, Jr., Wright's friend and later an art dealer who was familiar with the architect's art holdings, the works were bought in Berlin from the Paul Cassirer Gallery, with some works coming from his cousin, Bruno Cassirer. Reed stated that many of the Viennese works were in either the Secession or Neue Secession exhibitions in Berlin. He also suggested to me in the mid-1980s that Mamah Borthwick Cheney alone might have purchased the prints.
The Cassirer cousins were a likely source. Born into a prominent family, Bruno (1872–1941) and Paul (1871–1926) had opened a gallery and bookshop in 1898 on Viktoriastrasse near Kemperplatz in Berlin, and in May of the same year, they became secretaries of the newly formed Berlin Secession. For the next three years, they obtained progressive and new art from Berlin, Belgium, England, France, and Russia. In 1901, they had divided their enterprise: Paul ran the gallery and art dealership, and Bruno operated the publishing venture. Christian Morgenstern joined them as literary editor in 1903 and started the journal Das Theater. The enterprise altogether played a significant role in Berlin's cultural life and was a natural mecca for Wright and Cheney.
The print collection that Wright assembled provides an important addition to the scant documentation of his travels in Europe in 1910 and 1911. The architect apparently never made sketchbooks. He documented his visit to Japan in 1905 with his own photographs, but he made no visual record in Europe; only a few photographs of his lodgings in Florence and Fiesole provide visual evidence of his whereabouts. The print collection can be considered the equivalent of a photographic album, recording impressions and images of landscapes that are characteristic of the rural landscapes of Austria and Germany—and even observations of the techniques of graphic representation that fascinated Wright.
Wright assembled a collection of prints by twenty-two artists: seven Austrians, fourteen Germans, and one Swede. Eight of the group, including the Swede Gustaf Fjaestad, were members of or exhibited with the Vienna Secession. Eight of them had been published in Ver Sacrum; eight had had work published by the Society for Reproductive Art; five had exhibited work at the St. Louis world's fair. Wright obtained a print by one of the founders of the Berlin Secession, Walter Leistikow, and one by Carl Moll, a founder of the Vienna Secession.
The choice of prints obtained in 1910 indicates something of Wright's taste in art and the cast of his mood. If we compare him to the proponents of modern art, the taste of the forty-three-year-old American appears relatively conservative, and he showed neither awareness nor interest in the emerging avant-garde, particularly expressionists who were exploring graphic media. Ironically, for an American architect so identified with modern architecture and such a great practitioner of abstraction, much modern art could not move him beyond his nineteenth-century aesthetic formation. As seen in his print collection, sentimentality was a governing factor, though he clearly had an interest in the technical side of printmakers who used Japanese woodblock methods. Another operative factor in his avoiding avant-garde prints was money. If Cassirer's prices were higher for his more progressive artists, then Wright, whose funds were shrinking, would have gravitated toward the lower-priced items for popular consumption. Also, etchings, lithographs, and photolithographs were reasonable purchases, since they had the advantage of being easily transported during travel.
Although the landscapes in some of the prints include vernacular buildings, surprisingly few prints feature architectural subjects. Wright liked landscapes. He had several pictures of them in his Oak Park home, including a scenic oil view by the Chicago painter William Wendt and a pastel drawing of a field at harvest by the Chicago painter and muralist Charles Corwin, whose architect brother Cecil was an early friend of Wright's. Wright also had a print of a pastel, Thawing Ice, by the immensely popular Norwegian impressionist Fritz Thaulov; this may have been the same print that the artist exhibited at the Chicago Columbian Exposition in 1893. Wright's taste was typical of the time and similar to landscapes collected by Elbert Hubbard, who founded the Roycroft collective, which Wright knew.
Sentimental themes dominate these prints, but sentiment for Wright was to some extent the measure of an artist's ability to capture the "soul" of natural objects. He wrote in the introduction to the Wasmuth folios of "those qualities of line, form, and color which are themselves a language of sentiment, and characterize the pine as a pine." Sentiment feeds on memory, and the subjects of many of Wright's prints can be considered recollections of the hills of his ancestral valley near Spring Green, Wisconsin, and, with those memories, the longing for a place of refuge and regeneration that Wright would soon build and call Taliesin. Winter scenes in the Tirol and Bavaria would have echoed, for Wright, with the snow and trees on the farms of his relatives, the Lloyd-Jones clan. The austere emptiness of winter landscapes suggest the solitariness and lonely peace of winter in such scenes as Wenzel Oswald's snow-covered landscape with farm buildings in the mountains and Karl Biese's Schneegestöber (Snow Flurries). This tendency toward sentimentality was combined with associations of struggle, as seen in the landscape of wind-buffeted trees by Gustav Kampmann or in Ferdinand Schmutzer's etching of the poor at a soup kitchen.
While sentiment, personal association, and memories of his ancestral valley predominated in Wright's choices of prints, he bought the work of some artists for their technical interest. Some images, inspired by Japanese woodblock prints and imitative of their techniques, may have appealed to Wright as a collector. Walter Klemm's Junge Hunde (Young Hounds), while presenting, with humor, two dogs about to feed, also shows rich colors applied with the multiple impressions of the woodblock technique and an interesting use of overlaying colored inks from a succession of five wood blocks. Gustav Bechler's Die Sonnenseite (The Sunny Side) uses woodblock techniques to lay in broad expanses of single colors in a landscape scene. In addition, bravura demonstrations of etching may have appealed to Wright, as seen in the delicate yet vigorous line work in two prints by Peter von Halm.
Although no guided hand is clearly visible in the overall selection of prints, one-third of the German and Austrian prints in Wright's collection come from a group of artists who were members of the Karlsrüher Künstlerbund. It is unknown whether Wright selected them because of their shared affiliation or for other reasons. In any case, his selection draws attention to one of the numerous groups that formed regionally to react against traditionalism. The association was founded in April 1896 as part of the spreading artistic reactions that had generated the Secession in Munich. Friedrich Kallmorgen, the painter, had helped set up the preconditions of its founding through his connections to younger artists, but the major stimulus came when Count Leopold von Kalckreuth became professor at the Karlsruhe Academy in 1895. Hans W. Singer, who documented much work in the graphic arts of the time, described the founding as a "revolt of young artists of strong personality against senile academic traditions." But the revolt was not intended to alienate the public, so the name "Secession" was avoided—the group had practical issues in mind, and wanted acceptance.
Kalckreuth, a graphic artist and painter, emphasized lithography, setting up courses at the academy in the subject and arranging publication of the first portfolio of the new club during its founding month in April 1896. A second folio followed, and together they included, among others, the names of artists in Wright's collection: Daur, Kampmann, and Volkmann. Some early financial security was obtained by having the publishing house of G. Braun print the group's work and through two exhibitions held at Düsseldorf and Berlin, but at the time of their introduction in The Studio in 1899, they were still a young group whose aims were only just becoming known.
Their aims focused on the improvement of "applied," or commercial, lithography. Like many of the artists in Germany who had relinquished the heroic scale of painting and had become "art-workers," they wanted to give the objects of everyday life—furniture, carpets, jewelry—dignity, taste, and good design, and their chosen medium was the lithograph, formerly the domain of the tradesman or commercial draftsman. Their ultimate goal was to ennoble the ordinary with art by providing new designs for business cards, menus, wine lists, tickets, programs, and holiday greeting cards. While this emphasis on graphics foreshadowed the efforts of the Bauhaus more than twenty years later, it was part of a general interest in Gesamtkunstwerk, or as Singer described the goal, "art everywhere and in everything."
In accomplishing this goal, the Künstlerbund discounted the importance of making single-sheet pictures when the possibility of producing multiple images was available through the technology of printing. Their particular focus was the development of chromolithography into a fine art. In contrast to commercial lithographers, who hid the technique with careful shading in an effort to make realistic images, the artists of the Künstlerbund wanted to celebrate the medium. Rather than hide their means of representation, they delighted in showing the number of stones and how they were used. Instead of copying nature, they wanted to simplify it by eliminating halftones and substituting nature's colors for colors of the artists' own choice.
By 1899, the Karlsruhe group had already been successful in elevating chromolithography. They treated lithographic stones in ways that resulted in special color effects. Although the artists worked independently, and so their art showed little influence from one another, Singer saw in their work an important expression of German character in search of a "national" art. Not only was this a subtle hint about a rising German chauvinism, but a necessary counter both to the seductions of Parisian art, which had its own developments in color lithography, and to the danger of imitating Japanese art.
Some examples of the catalogues the Künstlerbund produced with its press show detailed listings of artists and their prints, along with, as might be expected, advertisements from various suppliers of print materials. The 1908 catalogue of the Karlsrüher Künstlerbund included an advertisement of a selected list of artists it had published and the prices for their prints; included were three artists Wright would collect: Biese, Kampmann, and Volkmann. The announcement noted that the prints were made by high-speed press, without the artist's signature, and on the finest copperplate paper. The cost for unframed prints was ten marks, fifteen marks for framed, and they could be bought through all bookstores and art galleries as well as directly from the publisher. At an exchange rate of approximately four marks to one U.S. dollar, the prints were inexpensive. A similar format was used in the 1910 catalogue. The full listings for both catalogues, separated into lithographs and etchings, included, among the total, additional artists in Wright's collection: Daur and Steinhausen. The catalogues also included lists of prints in the annual folios produced by the group.
The great ambitions and early success of the Karlsrüher Künstlerbund were, however, thwarted by a variety of problems, including a lack of money. Although a second generation of artists joined the founding members, Kallmorgen and Hein had long departed, and key members, including Kalckreuth, had moved to Stuttgart. Of their efforts to introduce artistic lithography into everyday objects, only the production of postcards and wall murals occurred. Singer still saw Karlsruhe and Stuttgart as the places that produced the most German of arts, but he was disappointed that the making of art for all—the dream of the Pre-Raphaelites—had failed.
Wright's general interest in the work of the Karlsrüher Künstlerbund may have come from his own long-standing interest in book design and the potential of the graphic arts. He had designed an edition of William C. Gannett's The House Beautiful, which was printed by his first client, William Herman Winslow, in 1896–1897. Printed by hand at Winslow's Auvergne Press in River Forest, Illinois, in an edition of ninety numbered copies and half-bound in leather and green cloth, the volume included graphic page designs by Wright in black and red. Sewn to the front endpaper was a booklet of Wright's photographs of dried weeds. Also in 1896, Wright designed the title page, again with red and black graphics, of another book published by the Auvergne Press: John Keats's The Eve of St. Agnes. Furthermore, in 1910 he was very much concerned with the lithographic production of his own art printing, the folios of Ausgeführte Bauten und Entwürfe von Frank Lloyd Wright. For his plates, he claimed that Wasmuth used the largest stones ever employed for graphic work. The graphic potentialities challenged him as he used subtle changes of colored inks, gold, and fine lines to convey his work in a manner that acknowledged Japanese woodblock prints as a model but was also partly his own invention.
Finally, a small group of anomalous images supplements the core collection. Two etchings turn out not to be by Germans or Austrians, but by the young American etcher Earl Horter (1880–1940). Unlike most of Wright's prints, Horter's two etchings had architectural subjects. Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Horter, a self-trained graphic artist, moved to New York in 1903 and worked for an advertising agency as a draftsman. He had begun studying etching and making prints by 1908. His subjects were mostly cityscape sketches of urban life. He collaborated with Jerome Meyers and Joseph Pennell on drawings of New York architecture in Glimpses of New York: An Illustrated Handbook of the City (1911 and 1912). Produced by the Edison Company, it provided a charming topographic history in which the role of electricity was emphasized. A prodigious draftsman, Horter's early work included commercial advertising drawings with cityscapes, an early example of the link between illustration and graphic art. His advertising illustrations appeared in the annual Exhibition of Advertising Arts for 1908–1910, and his work was exhibited in 1914 in the first exhibition of the New York Society of Etchers, for which he was also secretary and a juror. He also exhibited at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, at the Art Institute of Chicago, and at the Philadelphia Print Club, but only in 1916, after he had moved to Philadelphia, was there an exhibition of his work in New York. Recommended by Carl Zigrosser, who became the first curator of prints and drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, Horter's exhibition at the Frederick Keppel Company Gallery showed a number of views of New York that met with critical approval.
No evidence has appeared to indicate that Horter's etchings were available in Berlin in 1909–1911. Unless Wright somehow bought the prints while passing through New York en route to or from Europe, they appear to be later acquisitions. The two etchings were inventoried in Wright's archives in sequence with his Secessionist prints, and being early etchings by Horter, they do aesthetically fit within similar etchings in the collection. They are related to Horter's etching Coal Pockets and Viaduct, New York. The attention to scaffolding in the urban scenes in these two prints suggests Horter knew of the print work of Muirhead Bone, a Scottish etcher whose work was widely published and collected not only in the United Kingdom but also in Austria and Germany. The Art Institute of Chicago bought Horter's watercolor Nude Reclining in 1923. Horter later became an important collector and proponent of cubism, purchasing the work of Picasso and Braque, the movement's two major figures; he also collected African sculpture and Native American art.
Another print that fits aesthetically within Wright's print collection, but may have been purchased separately, is Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt's woodblock print The Rock, Nahant (1906). Born in Sweden, Nordfeldt (1878–1955) immigrated to Chicago at the age of thirteen. He began studying at the Art Institute of Chicago, taking courses in drawing, etching, engraving, and painting. He moved into the 57th Street Artists Colony and was hired by a local mural painter, Albert Herter, to help with a painting for the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company's exhibit at the Exposition Universelle of 1900, in Paris. Nordfeldt accompanied the painting to Paris, which resulted in a three-year stay in Europe. He became a student in Paris at the Académie Julian and studied woodblock cutting in London, exhibiting some of his prints at the Royal Academy. Upon returning to America, he set up his own studio in 1903 and focused on regional subjects. His prints, with Fauvist colors, unsettled viewers who were more comfortable with his academic work. His work was exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago from 8 January to 19 February 1908. This was a month before an exhibition involving Wright's Japanese print collection, Japanese Color Prints, C. Buckingham, F. W. Gookin, Frank Lloyd Wright, J. C. Webster, and J. H. Wrenn Collections, which was held in March 1908. The juxtaposition strongly suggests Wright knew of Nordfeldt's prints before his travels to Europe. Nordfeldt won a silver medal for an etching exhibited in the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition. After service in World War I, he moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he continued as a painter. Like Horter, Nordfeldt also become a proponent of modern art.
Because of Nordfeldt's presence in Chicago, Wright could have known of his work as a local artist before going to Europe. Again, no evidence indicates that his prints were exhibited in Germany. The date of the print, 1906, indicates a point after which Wright bought it, possibly in Chicago. The subject of the print is a large rock on the coast of Nahant, Massachusetts, one of Nordfeldt's regional studies. The woodblock print parallels in method and media the work in Wright's own extensive collection of Japanese woodblock prints; hence, it was a logical acquisition. In effect, Nordfeldt was, like Wright, an ardent admirer of ukiyo-e prints, and Nordfeldt was esteemed as one of the first artists in Chicago to promote woodblock methods.
The lone drawing in the collection may have come from the hand of Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Clearly, this colorful and exuberant drawing of trees is the work of an amateur. Wright made no similar drawings. It resembles no other drawings in his archives, and no evidence indicates its sources. Without explanation, Wright could have kept it as a memento of the great love of his life, but the artist's identity remains an open question.
Today the artists in Wright's collection are little known and represent trends that appear conservative relative to the dramatic thrusts of modern art that were emerging in Europe around 1910. Though small in number and of mixed quality, Wright's Secessionist print collection provides a unique confirmation that Wright, the champion of a democratic American architecture, had the sensitivity to embrace what he saw as a fresh aesthetic rooted in turn-of-the-century Europe. His artists were at the end of their époque. Wright assimilated into a broader aesthetic sensibility what they represented, and moved on.
“Perhaps no one has done more to make sense of Frank Lloyd Wright for audiences of art and architectural historians, as well as countless others interested in American and modern design, than Professor Anthony Alofsin. His manifold publications on Wright, indeed on almost every facet of [his] professional career, constitute collectively the greatest resource on which we can draw for a portrait of the architect and his work.”
Steven Mansbach, Professor of the History of Twentieth-century Art, University of Maryland, and author of Modern Art in Eastern Europe: From the Baltic to the Balkans ca. 1890 to 1939