Poster, 1893, by Toulouse-Lautrec
The year 1900 found three of Europe’s greatest cities entering defining eras in their historical and cultural development. In a richly illustrated full-day program, popular Smithsonian lecturer George Scheper explores how the alignment of creative forces shaped three highly distinctive urban milieus—each nourished by the energy and excitement of new ideas and each witnessing the birth of modernism in the coming century.
10–11:15 a.m. Fin-de-Siecle Vienna
Vienna in 1900 witnessed an explosion of creativity in music, art, literature, philosophy and science. The dramatic shifts from traditional to avant-garde forms of expression played out in the coffee houses, salons, galleries, and concert halls. Seminal figures included Otto Wagner, the architect whose work ranged from industrial styles to art nouveau to modernist designs; Gustav Klimt, the most renowned of Vienna’s rebellious secessionist artists; Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, part of the second wave of secessionists who further pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable to the city’s middle class; and Adolf Loos, the modernist architect who argued that “ornament is crime.”
11:30 a.m.–12:45 p.m. Belle Epoque Paris
Paris became the city of our romantic imagination at the turn of the century. The broad and open boulevards at its center, products of Baron von Haussmann’s ambitious modernization plan begun in the middle of the 19th century, provided the setting for theatres, concert halls, cafes, and vibrant street life. The posters and paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec, the urban scenes of the great impressionist and post-impressionist painters, and the works of symbolist poets and artists created other new aesthetic worlds. A series of world’s fairs, culminating in the Exposition Universelle of 1900, celebrated an increasingly globalized economy along with astounding technological innovations, such as electricity, that would radically transform the new century.
12:45–2 p.m. Lunch (participants provide their own)
2–3:30 p.m. Imperial London
The British Empire was at its height in 1900—although the signs of imminent decline can be seen in retrospect. The elegant residential squares, parks, and clubs of London reflect a world of complacent stability, yet the docks and working-class neighborhoods of the city already foreshadowed class conflicts and a new multicultural reality. Earlier in the 19th century, the pre-Raphaelites tried to temper England’s headlong rush into industrial technology with recollections of medieval and Renaissance aesthetic sensibilities, but modern life and modern subjects in both post-impressionist and naturalist styles were cultivated by turn-of-the-century artists such as Walter Sickert, Augustus John, and Vanessa Bell.
Scheper is senior lecturer in advanced academic programs and past director of the Odyssey program of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1 credit
S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)