Review
Books

A hefty tome on the arts of the Austro-Hungarian belle époque

The extraordinary mitteleuropäische flourishing of all the arts from 1900 to 1914

Hermann Drawe, Flop House (1904) © IMAGNO / Austrian Archives

Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig and Gregor von Rezzori are the presiding geniuses behind this book. It reinforces their nostalgia for the last days (as they turned out) of the rule of "der Franzl" (otherwise, His Imperial Majesty, Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, etc etc). This door-stop of a book weighing in at half a stone covers all the art aspects of that incredibly fertile, now lost world: painting, drawing, applied and decorative arts, architecture, and the companies and institutions that helped to create this renaissance. Yet all was not well, as Hermann Drawe’s 1904 Flop-House clearly shows. A very brief epilogue discusses why this moment vanished, failing to note that it was the cosmopolitan nature of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself was the matrix that caused it in the first place and that it was ethnic nationalism that tore it down. It is a beautifully illustrated and well presented book marred only by the wretched sans-serif typeface throughout.

  • Christian Brandstätter, Daniela Gregori and Rainer Metzger, Vienna 1900 Complete, Thames & Hudson, 544pp, £85 (hb)