Munich Secession
German Breakaway Artist Group under Bruno Piglhein.

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Poster by Franz von Stuck
for the Seventh International
Art Exhibition in Munich, 1898,
held jointly by the Munich
Secession and the official
Munich Artists' Association.

Munich Secession Movement (1892)


Secessionist Approach to Art
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For a general guide to the evolution of painting, sculpture and
other artforms, see: History of Art (2.5 Million BCE -present).

See: History of Art Timeline.
For specific styles,
see: Art Movements.


In fine art, the term "secession" refers to a number of avant-garde art groups (in Germany, Austria, France and Belgium), that seceded from the official academic art bodies in their respective countries. The first such Secession movement appeared in Munich in 1892. Then came the Vienna Secession (1897) and the Berlin Secession (1898). But the Munich group - unlike the other Secessionist bodies - did not leave the official Artists' Association (Munchner Kunstlergenossenschaft) because of the latter's old-fashioned aesthetics or its rejection of Post-Impressionism - but rather as a result of its openness! The problem started when MK juries began favouring modernist styles (like Impressionism) at the 1889 and 1891 salons. In response, the more conservative board of the association announced that in future all styles, not just progressive ones, would be accepted at the salon. This provoked a number of the association's most progressive members to quit and set up their own exhibition organization, the Munich Secession. Founding members of the Munich Secession movement included Bruno Piglhein (1848-94) its first President; Paul Hoecker (1854-1910) its first secretary; along with nearly 100 painters, sculptors, lithographers, architects and draughtsmen, including Franz von Stuck (1863-1928), Wilhelm Trubner (1851-1917), Hugo von Habermann (1849-1929) and Robert Potzelberger (1856-1930). Highlights of the first Secessionist exhibition (1893) included "Wrestling School" (Die Ringerschule), by Max Slevogt; "Frye's own Sin" (Die Sunde) by Franz von Stuck; and "Evening Sky" (Abendhimmel), by Richard Riemerschmid. The Secession founded its own gallery in 1906, endowing it with an art collection that is now in the city's Lenbachhaus. The Munich Secession association split again in 1901 when several disgruntled members set up the group Phalanx, and again in 1913, with the founding of the "New Munich Secession".

For other progressive painters in Germany, please see the symbolists Arnold Bocklin and Max Klinger; the realists Max Liebermann and Wilhelm Leibl; and the Impressionist Lovis Corinth.



Secessionist Approach to Art

Like William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, the Munich Secession championed all types of art, including decorative art and design, and generally adopted a multidisciplinary approach to the subject. Their modernist style of painting included prototype forms of abstract art as well as more expressive styles, thus anticipating early 20th century movements like Symbolism and Cubism. Other influences on the development of Secessionist art included curvilinear drawing of the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley, and the Synthetism of Paul Gauguin.

Munich Secession exhibitions were also organized differently. For the first time, paintings were hung on light coloured walls, and with more space between them, so that spectators could focus on a single work rather than be distracted by a mass of other canvases above, below and on both sides. Entry qualifications were also broadened. To begin with, shows were no longer limited to fine art painting and sculpture, but also included works of applied art in the fashionable Art Nouveau style (also called Jugendstil), as well as a number of crafts. Second, in order to counteract the growing provincialism of the huge exhibitions held by the official Munich Artists' Association, Secessionist exhibitions were opened to quality works by foreign artists.


By the close of the 19th century, more artists lived in Munich than in Vienna and Berlin combined. They included several outstanding foreign painters, including the Russians Wassily Kandinsky (1844-1944) and Alexei von Jawlensky (1864-1941), who later founded the "New Artists Association" (Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen) as well as the famous Munich art group known as Der Blaue Reiter (Blue Rider) (1911-14). However, the city's arts establishment was dominated by the conservative attitudes of the Munich Artists' Association, its influential President Franz von Lenbach, and its supporters in the civic administration. In 1891, after two controversial exhibitions which included works of German Post-Impressionism as well as Expressionism, Bavaria's Prince-Regent Luitpold announced the setting up of an art foundation dedicated to traditional history painting. Intended to safeguard the high standards of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts, it was, controversially, strongly opposed to modern art movements and other contemporary trends. This provoked progressive members of the Munich Artists' Association to call for a much wider idea of the meaning of art, as well as greater freedom to exhibit works directly to the public, not just at the official salon - a campaign that led directly to secession.


The Munich Secession movement came into being at the beginning of April, 1892, when 96 former members of the Munich Artists' Association set up the new "Association of Visual Artists of Munich" - soon changed to the more popular "Munich Secession" - under the inaugural presidency of Bruno Piglhein, with financial backing from writer Georg Hirth, who first coined the word "secession"; Georg von Vollmar, editor of the Democratic Socialist party's official newspaper; and Hans von Toerring-Jettenbach a liberal politician. Interestingly, not long afterwards, a more moderate band of painters seceded from the official association to form the Luitpold-Gruppe, a group dedicated to upholding the principles of the Munich Academy.

The first major exhibition of the Munich Secession was held in July 1893, at a brand new venue at the junction of Prinzregentenstraße and Pilotystraße. The show consisted of 876 works by 297 artists, and attracted some 4,000 visitors. Its success led to an agreement with Franz von Lenbach and the Artists' Association, under which the exhibition building on the Konigsplatz (today's Staatliche Antikensammlungen) was transferred to the Secession in 1897.

Note: To add to the confusion, yet another artist organization - called Munich New Artist's Association (Neue Kunstlervereinigung Munchen) (NKVM) was formed by Kandinsky in 1909. However, the group was unable to reconcile the radical approach of Kandinsky with more conventional artistic concepts, and in 1911 it was dissolved. Kandinsky then founded Der Blaue Reiter with Alexei von Jawlensky, Franz Marc (1880-1916) and August Macke (1887-1914), and his mistress Gabriele Munter (1887-1914).

In 1938, following the Nazi campaign to establish political control over all forms of art, which climaxed in the exhibition of so-called "Degenerate Art" ("Entartete Kunst"), held in the Hofgartenarkaden in Munich, the Munich Secession was dissolved. Reestablished in 1946, it celebrated its centennial in 1892.

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Expressionist Movement (1880s onwards)
Germany, France, Belgium, Europe, America

History of Expressionist Painting (1880-1930)
Including Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, the Fauves, Ecole de Paris.

German Expressionist Art (c.1905-35)
Including the Worpswede Group, Die Brucke (1905-13) and Der Blau Reiter.

Joseph Maria Olbrich (1867-1908)
Viennese Secessionist architect.

Deutscher Werkbund (German Work Federation).
State-sponsored body of art and industry, set up by Hermann Muthesius.

Paintings by artists of the Munich Secession can be seen in some of the best art museums in the world, notably the Lenbachhaus.


• For more about painting in Munich, see: Homepage.

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