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Gesamtkunstwerk Collage

Gesamtkunstwerk Artworks

Started: 1890
Ended: 1933
Gesamtkunstwerk Timeline

The Important Artists and Works of Gesamtkunstwerk

Progression of Art
William Morris and Philip Webb: The Red House (1859)

The Red House

Artist: William Morris and Philip Webb

This photograph depicts the exterior of The Red House, named for the red brick used for its walls and the red tiles of its roofing. Morris saw the house as "very mediaeval in spirit" and the sloping and overhanging gables, prominent chimneys, and combination of round and narrow vertical windows reflect the influence of early English Gothic architecture. Innovative in its rejection of any architectural decorative elements, the building's design was, as J. W. Mackail wrote, "plain almost to severity, and depended for its effect on its solidity and fine proportion". Every element, from the site, which was then a rural setting in Kent on the outskirts of London, to the interior fittings, were designed to create a singular work of art.

Following his marriage, Morris built this house with Philip Webb, and the design, materials, and building methods reflected his emphasis on traditional handcrafts and utility. Built upon a L-plan, Morris designed the windows, employing a number of different types and shapes, to suit the layout and purpose of the rooms. He also worked with a wide range of other artists on the property, including Burne-Jones who created a selection of stained glass, Dante Gabriel Rossetti who produced painted panels and other elements were designed by Ford Madox Brown, Elizabeth Siddal, and Jane Morris. Designing the garden, Morris emphasized its integration with the house and he saw the building and grounds, and the collaborative approach they had employed to make it, as an artistic statement of his vision of "the future we are now helping to make". He also noted that "If I were asked to say what is at once the most important production of Art...I should answer, A beautiful House". During the five years that Morris lived in The Red House, it became an active center of the arts, informing both the Arts and Crafts movement and the Pre-Raphaelites, while also having a significant influence as a pioneering example of Gesamtkunstwerk. In the 1950s the architects Edward and Doris Hollamby renovated The Red House, which had fallen into disrepair, and it again became an important hub for artists and thinkers.

Red Brick, clay slate, wood - London

Richard Wagner: Bayreuth Festspielhaus or Bayreuth Festival Theatre (1872-76)

Bayreuth Festspielhaus or Bayreuth Festival Theatre

Artist: Richard Wagner

The façade of the Bayreuth Theatre reflects late-19th century fashions in architecture, with its columns and geometric patterns of light-colored stone framing the central entrance. Imposing, and referencing the appearance of a classical temple, it rises on a small hill above a garden laid out in a geometric design which reflects the decoration on the frontage. Richard Wagner built the theatre as a venue for the performance of his opera cycles at the annual Bayreuth Festival, officially titled Richard-Wagner-Festspielhaus, which still continues today. As such, the theatre and its performances embodied his vision of Gesamtkunstwerk, with every element combining to create a total aesthetic experience.

The foundation stone for the building was placed on Wagner's birthday in 1872 and Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung,) Wagner's cycle of four operas opened the theatre in 1876. To integrate the presentation of the operas with the building, Wagner pioneered a new design, including continental seating (a seating layout without a central aisle), a double proscenium, and a recessed orchestral pit. He also primarily used wood for the interior to improve acoustics. The continental seating, arranged in a single wedge, meant every seat had a clear view of the stage. The double proscenium created what Wagner called a "mystic gulf" between the stage and the audience, enhancing the dreamlike and mythic quality of his operas. At the same time, the orchestra pit, hidden under the stage, was invisible and let the audience focus entirely on the opera. Many theatres subsequently adopted these features.

Brick, wood, glass - Bayreuth, Bavaria, Germany

Victor Horta: Hôtel Tassel (1892-93)

Hôtel Tassel

Artist: Victor Horta

This townhouse, considered to be one of the first complete examples of an Art Nouveau building, was revolutionary in its architectural techniques and its fluid, open style. Innovating with modern materials, particularly steel and glass, Horta emphasized organic, curving lines, so the façade flowed both vertically and horizontally. He pioneered the use of thin iron columns, rather than conventional stone, allowing for the large windows. Horta also designed the interior, giving the property an open floor plan and emphasizing natural light, so that the total effect of the building was of a fully-integrated, light-filled space. The wider design was complemented by details such as the light fixtures, window frames, door handles, and stair railings which imitated sinuous plant-like forms, defining both the wider Art Nouveau aesthetic as well as creating a cohesive decorative and architectural scheme throughout the property.

Along with Horta's Hôtel Solvay, Hôtel van Eetvelde, and Maison & Atelier Horta, this building was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000 and cited, as "some of the most remarkable pioneering works of architecture of the end of the 19th century. The stylistic revolution represented by these works is characterised by their open plan, the diffusion of light, and the brilliant joining of the curved lines of decoration with the structure of the building."

Iron, stone, glass - Brussels, Belgium

Joseph Maria Olbrich: Ernst-Ludwig-Haus (1900-01)


Artist: Joseph Maria Olbrich

A leading example of Gesamtkunstwerk within the Jugendstil movement, this building was the centerpiece of the Darmstadt Artists Colony (founded in 1899) and it served as artist's studios. Recruited by the Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig to design the colony, Olbrich was a leading figure of the Vienna Secession and had designed the famous Secession exhibition building three years before. Olbrich seized the opportunity to create a building that fused architecture, sculpture and decorative elements. The influence of the Vienna Secession can be seen in the white walls and decorative gold frieze around the entrance. The large windows demonstrate the practicality of the building and the monumental male and female statues by the sculptor Ludwig Habich's on either side of the stairs point to its purpose, representing strength and beauty.

Today the Ernst-Ludwig-Haus houses the Mathildenhöhe Institute, which promotes contemporary art, while UNESCO named the Darmstadt Art Colony as a World Heritage site in 2015, calling the colony "a unique ensemble testifying to experimental creativity."

Brick, plaster, glass, iron, tile - Darmstadt

Gustav Klimt: Preparatory design for the interior of Stocklet Palace (1910-11)

Preparatory design for the interior of Stocklet Palace

Artist: Gustav Klimt

This stunning design shows a couple in an intimate embrace, a common motif of Klimt's work, and rendered in his distinctive style, using a gold background of elegant spirals. The couple is simplified, the woman's upturned face partially visible against the man's black hair, as her right arm clasps his shoulder. The shape and pattern of the man's cloak, combining gold ovals, with a grid of black and white, and other jewel colors, creates a feeling of unity between the couple and the setting.

This cartoon was one of nine, created on a 1:1 scale by Klimt for the Stoclet Frieze (1910-11), decorating the dining room of the Palais Stoclet in Brussels. His designs were executed as mosaics, following his specific directions and using precious materials, including mother-of-pearl, gold leaf, and enamel, by the Wiener Werkstätte and the Wiener Mosaikwerkstätte (Vienna Mosaic Workshop). Two twenty foot murals graced both sides of the dining room, while a smaller vertical panel, The Golden Knight, presided at the head of the table. The Vienna Secession architect, Josef Hoffman designed and built the luxuriant house for Adolph Stoclet, a wealthy banker and noted art collector, from 1905-11. Wiener Werkstätte artists, including Koloman Moser, Carl Otto Czeschka, Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel, and Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill, along with Klimt, designed the interior.

Each element of the palace was specifically designed and made of the finest materials, irrespective of the cost, and as architectural critic Aaron Betsky wrote, "The sensuousness of the textures, culminating in the 20-foot murals that Gustav Klimt created to grace the walls of the dining room, conflates Ali Baba's treasure cave with a built version of haute couture: you surround yourself with visible wealth and luxuriate in it. Every moment of parquetry, marble, onyx, or hardwood is itself an exercise in geometry carried out in a dizzying variety of patterns. Everywhere you look, every aspect of life, from how you sit to what you see, has become an example of human ability to craft a complete environment." Named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the organization cited the building as "one of the most accomplished and homogenous buildings of the Vienna Secession...embodying the aspiration of creating a 'total work of art' (Gesamtkunstwerk)."

Chalk, pencil, gouache, silver, gold, platinum, transparent paper, draft paper - MAK- Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Arts, Vienna, Austria

Frank Lloyd Wright: Imperial Hotel (1916-23)

Imperial Hotel

Artist: Frank Lloyd Wright

The façade of the Imperial Hotel combined Wright's Prairie Style with the Mayan Revival style, as well as being informed by Japanese influences. At the entrance, a reflecting pool, framed by two large stone figures, evoked Mayan plazas. The motif continued throughout, as seen in the pair of short thick stone columns and the temple-like entrance way, as the visitor entered the building through a low and dark hallway before ascending the stairs into the spaciousness of the central lobby. Wright painstakingly designed all the elements and fittings of the hotel, notably creating tall columns, their surfaces incised with patterned openings to create light, so that they were dubbed "pillars of light." Due to their patterns, the columns also evoked Mayan hieroglyphs, while at the same time their light filled presence resembles the Japanese floating latterns that inspired Wright.

The Japanese government commissioned Wright to create a hotel complex that would attract Westerners. Building in an area known for devastating earthquakes, he expertly engineered the building, using massive concrete piles and a H-shaped plan. At the same time, made primarily of brick, the building is hand-constructed, evoking the Arts and Crafts movement. Like the artists of the Arts and Crafts movement, Wright coordinated the hotel's furnishings, including tableware and china, with the architecture to create one of his most completely realized examples of Gesamtkunstwerk. In 1968 most of the building was demolished to make way for a new high-rise while the central section was relocated and reconstructed at the Meiiji-Mura Museum.

Reinforced concrete, Oya stone, brick, glass, wood, copperplates - Meiji Mura, Near Nagoya, Japan

Gerritt Rietveld: Rietveld Schröder House (1924)

Rietveld Schröder House

Artist: Gerritt Rietveld

Emphasizing interlocking rectangles, horizontal and vertical lines, and grey, black, or white mixed with primary colors, this architectural manifesto exemplifies De Stijl's approach to Gesamtkunstwerk. Designed with sliding or revolving panels, the interior space created a fluid openness that reflected the underlying values of openness in relationships, freed of hierarchal and traditional constraints. The line, color, and surface of the exterior's rectilinear lines flow, uninterrupted, into the interior space. Every detail of the design was carefully considered, as seen in the radical design of the windows, which open at a ninety-degree angle, emphasizing their rectangular form.

Reitveld designed the house, considered by some scholars to be the only true example of De Stijl architecture, as a private residence for Mrs. Truus Schröder-Schräde and her three children. Naming the house a World Heritage Site in 2000, UNESCO stated, "With its radical approach to design and the use of space, the Rietveld Schröderhuis occupies a seminal position in the development of architecture in the modern age."

Reinforced concrete, steel, brick, plaster, wood, glass - Utrecht, Netherlands

Walter Gropius: Bauhaus Building (1925-26)

Bauhaus Building

Artist: Walter Gropius

This iconic building with its geometric design, glass curtain walls with the steel structural grid exposed, its color scheme and signature typography embodies the Bauhaus aesthetic in every way. Here, Gesamtkunstwerk is applied within a vision of total design that incorporates modern technology and industrialization. When the Bauhaus moved from Weimar to Dessau, Gropius, influenced by the design of the Fagus Factory (1911-13), took the opportunity to design a campus that reflected the principles of the school. Using the new technology of reinforced concrete and steel, he designed each space to embody its function. The use of the glass curtain and large ground floor windows illuminated workshops and studio spaces, while movable partition walls and interior spaces were designed for flexibility and openness, enhancing community collaboration. Students and artists in all Bauhaus departments were involved in designing various interior fixtures and fittings, as reflected here in the exterior's use of Herbert Bayer's font, invented at the Bauhaus.

Gropius also designed a five-story housing block for students and homes for the Bauhaus Masters, all reflecting the same use of modern construction technology with an emphasis on geometric style. The campus itself was innovative as architectural critic Nikil Saval wrote, "It was a school that was also - unusual for Germany - a campus: a place where students and teachers came to live. It was meant to embody the life that its teachers and students were also expected to make available to the world." Gropius described his own vision, "The ultimate aim of all artistic activity is building! The ultimate, if distant, aim of the Bauhaus is the unified work of art," a vision which included the union of technology, fine art, and crafts in what he called a "total architecture." UNESCO named this site, along with the Bauhaus in Weimar and Bernau, a World Heritage Site in 1999. The work of the Bauhaus and its concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, defined by Gropius as "total design" was internationally influential, as Bauhaus art and architecture trends developed in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and Israel.

Glass, steel, reinforced concrete - Dessau, Germany

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Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson

"Gesamtkunstwerk Definition Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Rebecca Seiferle
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kate Stephenson
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First published on 21 Jan 2020. Updated and modified regularly
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