2011-05-04

ÖSTERREICH - WIEN - The Prophet - The World of Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach


The first major exhibition in Austria devoted to Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851-1913)

Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851–1913) was an eccentric artist and outsider who first caused a sensation in Germany in the 1880s: as a barefoot vegetarian in a cowl, as a "life reformer" advocating nudism, as a self-styled prophet who preached peace, and not least as a painter of monumental pictures in late symbolist style, which he used to advertise his ideas.

In 1892, Diefenbach and his children moved from Munich to Vienna, where he exhibited his paintings – and was ridiculed as a "kohlrabi apostle", just as he had been before in Germany. Although he suffered an existential crisis following a conflict with the artists' association Wiener Kunstverein, he decided to stay in the city, founding the highly controversial "Himmelhof" commune where he ruled in authoritarian style. His restless life eventually led Diefenbach to the island of Capri, then a popular spot with artists and Bohemians. After his death there in 1913, he soon faded into oblivion.

The exhibition now on show at Hermesvilla has been curated by Diefenbach expert Claudia Wagner and was a great success at Villa Stuck in Munich, where it first went on display under the title Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach (1851–1913). "Lieber sterben, als meine Ideale verleugnen!" ("Let me die rather than deny my ideals!"). It includes about 30 paintings by Diefenbach, most of which have never been displayed in public before; many of them are on loan from private collections around the world. Also on show are the most important parts of his magnum opus, the 68-metre frieze Per aspera ad astra, which Diefenbach painted in Vienna. Some space has been reserved for Diefenbach's disciples, among them the well-known artist František Kupka, the "revolutionary" Gusto Gräser and Hugo Höppener, alias Fidus, a later sympathizer with Nazi ideology. Many photographs and private documents offer insights into the personal lifestyle and environment of Diefenbach, a key figure of the "life reform" movement in Europe around 1900.


Wien Museum - Hermesvilla    07.04.2011 - 26.10.2011