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In 1897 a group of progressive Viennese artists broke away from the city’s established exhibiting body, the Künstlerhaus and formed their own group, known as the Vienna Secession. Beginning with its first exhibition in the spring of 1898, these artists and designers displayed the works of their colleagues abroad as well as their own. Their primary motive—to bring Austria to the forefront of modern art—is embodied in their antihistoricist motto: “To the age its art, to art its freedom.” Since their definition of modern art promoted the applied arts and the fine arts equally, furnishings were prominently displayed at their exhibitions.

Two leading members of the Secession, the architect Josef Hoffmann and the painter and designer Koloman Moser, set up in 1903 a craft workshop called the Wiener Werkstätte with the backing of textile industrialist Fritz Wärndorfer. The Werkstätte’s sophisticated products stand at the center of any account of the Arts and Crafts movement in Vienna.

British design exerted a strong influence on the Austrians. The Werkstätte was partly modeled on the Guild of Handicraft, the workshops of the English Arts and Crafts designer C. R. Ashbee. The Austrian Museum of Art and Industry was inspired by London’s South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), and the museum’s Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts) derived from both the precedent of South Kensington’s associated school and the fundamental Arts and Crafts emphasis on making things rather than merely copying pattern design. But while the British and other outside models were important, Viennese Arts and Crafts were distinctly Viennese.

- Wendy Kaplan (2005)