05 December 2010

Broncia Koller-Pinell

Turn of the century Vienna was hardly a hospitable place for women. They were discouraged from taking part in public life except as mothers and playthings of men, subject the inconsistencies of a double standard reinforced by untreatable venereal diseases. The obstacles must have seemed enormous but there were women who  persisted.  Although women were barred from the Viennese Academy until as late as 1920,  young women like Broncia Koller-Pinell studied art privately.

Bronislawa Pineles was born  on the 23rd of February 1863 in Sonak in Galizia, now  part of Poland.  The family moved to Vienna in 1870, changing their name to Pinell and becoming part of  a growing prosperous Jewish community.  Already artistically inclined, Broncia received  her  instruction at age seven from sculptor Robert Raab.  She studied painting  with Alois Delug in Vienna and then the Art Academy for women  in Munich  from 1885-1887. Her early paintings were well received by  Viennese critics.  After that first  successful exhibition in 1885, she would exhibit her work  at the legendary Kunsthaus  Vienna in 1908 and 1909.

She was introduced to Dr. Hugo Koller (1867–1949) a  physician and physicist,  by composer Hugo Wolf.   Before the marriage, Hugo Koller had to withdraw from the Catholic church because mixed marriages were not permitted between Jew and Catholics at the time. Holy Blood, dedicated to her mother-in-law, suggest that Koller-Pinell may have converted to Catholicism, at least formally or perhaps it is a tribute of affection. (The miniature at the top left corner of the painted frame is a portrait of Frau Koller.)
After their marriage  in 1891, Hugo Koller, who was also a collector and art patron, promoted Broncia's career.  The couple knew the Secessionists and, later, the members of the Wiener Werkstatte.  Like other artists  around Gustav Klimt, Koller-Pinell (as she now called herself) worked in the flat, decorative  manner of the Secession. The bookplate she designed for Hugo reveals the obsessive book collector who owned several thousand volumes, many of them rarities.

In 1904 the  couple inherited a house in Oberwaltersdorf and commissioned Josef Hoffmann to renovate it in the Secessioonst  style. The interior was designed jointly by Broncia Koller  and Kolo Moser. The Koller home  became a popular meeting place for artists  and intellectuals including Franz von Zulow and a young Egon Schiele.

Daringly, for her time, Koller-Pinnell painted nudes, most  memorably Mariette, sometimes  called Seated Nude (at top).  Marietta, from Trieste, may look familiar as she often posed for Gustav Klimt.  Koller’s arrangement of bold rectangles as her background includes a golden one behind the model’s head, perhaps an allusion to the golden mean of the Renaissance.  Marietta sits, relaxed yet attentive, a  model at work with an artist, not a symbol but a real woman.
In 1907, Koller-Pinell painted The Artist's Mother seated in profile, which has  been compared to James McNeill Whistler's portrait of his mother - high aesthetic praise indeed.  Koller-Pinell's nudes radiate a spirit of self-possession; they are not positioned as offerings to the viewer. In common, both portraits have the flattened backgrounds and geometric designs of Secessionist style.  Also, Koller-Pinell's woodblock prints are usually square, the shape associated with the influential Jugenstil journal Ver Sacrum.
 Frequently she painted her daughter Sylvia and also Anna Mahler, daughter of Gustav Mahler, at least twice  Yet Koller-Pinell's  name rates no mention in Henri de la Grange's monumental biography of the composer which also gives short shrift to  Anna herself.  On the pictorial evidence, both girls liked parrots. One wonders about the relationship between the painter and the young girl who went on to become a professional sculptor.
The Vienna Kunsthaus art show  of 1908 was recreated at the Galerie Belvedere in October of 2008. The original epoch making event featured Koller-Pinell's work within the circle of fellow artists: Emil Orlik, Otto Prutscher, Maximilian Kurzweil, and those already named.  So far as I can tell, her work was not given its proper place in the recreation. 
 Elena Luksch Makowska, Tina Blau, Olga Wisinger Florian,  and Marie Egner  were other successful artists but none equalled Koller's Pinell's curiosity, experimentation, and sure sense of what she could achieve with her art. 

Broncia Koller-Pinell died on the 24th of April 1934 in Oberwaltersdorf, before the full horror of National Socialism.

Paintings by Broncia Koller-Pinell:
Mariette, 1907, Vera Eisenberger collection, Vienna.
Sylvia With Birdcage, undated, Vera Eisenberger collection, Vienna.
The Artist's Mother, 1907, Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
Anna Mahler With A Parrot, 1910s, Kunsthaus Hieke, Vienna.
View Of The Karlskirche-Vienna, undated, Dorotheum, Vienna.
Photograph of the opening of the Vienna Kunstschau, 1908, Bildarchiv, Vienna.


Hels said...

What a brave, persistent young woman Pinell must have been, and what a supportive husband Koller must have been. Of course it helped that Koller was also a collector and art patron, since even the most anti-woman artists respond to cashed-up collectors. But Pinell had to deliver the goods.. and did.

My anger is not directed at sexist pre-WW1 contemporaries who may not have known better. But modern art historians, who DO know better, can still write women artists out of history.

Jane said...

Indeed. One possible motto I considered for this site was "Art History - Under Construction". A curious thing occurs over and over, not only in art but music, literature, science, is that women and other "marginal" people produce work that earns attention when they are alive. But when they die, their works are buried with them.

Neil said...

Fantastic post, Jane. It's amazing that the hidden story of women's art has not yet found its true historian.

Jane said...

I recently read something (it may have been by James Wood)about reputations being propped up while writers are alive, and then allowed to deflate after death. Women haven't had the benefits of reputation defenders until recently.
How many people have not read "The Semi-Attached Couple" and "The Semi-Detached House" because some critic assured them that Emily Eden was no Jane Austen? She's not and she doesn't have to be - I recommend both books.

Neil said...

Jane - I'm not sure if the wonderful Persephone Books (see their blog at thepersephonepost.blogspot.com) have distribution in the USA. Persephone is a very individual publisher of forgotten books by women writers, concentrating on the domestic scene - a bit like Virago was 30 years ago, but with better production values and a less radical agenda. One of their great finds was Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, which I defy anyone not to enjoy.

Jane said...

Thanks, Neil. I like the website. If Virago Books is radical then so am I.

Neil said...

Radical may be the wrong word, but Virago certainly had an attitude, whereas Persephone is simply saying, "Have you read this? It's great." I suppose it's just a change of emphasis from It's very wrong that this has been forgotten to It's a shame you haven't read this yet. Though I don't suppose Virago would ever have reprinted a piece of exquisite nonsense like Miss Pettigrew.

Jane said...

Neil, I looked at the Persephone catalogue and the selection seems less intriguing than the Virago catalogue. Some of my favorite Virago dtreasures are "That's How It Was" by Maureen Duffy', "Maurice Guest" by Henry Handel Richardson", The Shutter Of Snow" by Emily Holmes Coleman", "The Orchid House" by Phyllis Shand Alfrey, and the Emily Eden books. Not a cozy bunch, not even the underrated Eden.

Jane said...

I do give them points, though, for "Daddy's Gone a-Hunting".

George said...

I am a member of the extended family (many lost in the holocaust) of Broncia Koller Pinell. I have three of her oil paintings which were given to my mother by Sylvia and Rupert Koller(her children) in 1958.

In 2008 when Tate Liverpool had an exhibition of works of the Viennese Secession. I offered the pictures for display at the exhibition to show the work of the only woman member of the secession.They showed no interest and never replied to several letters/e-mails
On a pedantic note her famiy did not change Pineles to Pinell it was only her.

Jane said...

George, I am so grateful to you for this information. How I wish there were a good book - any book - lots of books! - in English devoted to Koller-Pinell's work. Such a fine artist deserves to be celebrated.

William Bayer said...

I have searched everywhere I can think of for an image of Koller's portrait of Lou Andreas-Salome. I know it was sold a few years ago at auction for a not-very-high price. If you've seen an image, please let me know. Thanks so much. WIlliam Bayer (crimenovelist@yahoo.com).