Lords of the ring

Vienna at the fin-­de-­siècle

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  • Published 20200726
  • ISBN: 978-1-922212-50-4
  • Extent: 304pp
  • Paperback (234 x 153mm), eBook

VIENNA’S RINGSTRASSE, BUILT from 1865 on the site of the old city wall, has long been derided for its architecture. Because it is a domain of revivalist styles, including neo-Renaissance, neo-Baroque and neo-Gothic, modernists have been contemptuous. But the Ringstrasse has recently been reappraised, with Australia playing a part. A dinner in Melbourne in 2011 to celebrate the opening of the National Gallery of Victoria’s Vienna Art and Design – Australia’s first international exhibition focused on Vienna around 1900 – was crucial. At that dinner, one of the exhibition’s curators, Christian Witt-Döring, suggested to representatives of the Austrian National Tourist Office that Vienna mark the sesquicentenary of the Ringstrasse in 2015. Witt-Döring proposed that the city celebrate the Ring as one of the world’s great boulevards, and so it did, triggering a reappraisal that led Joseph Koerner in Burlington Magazine to declare the Ring ‘the world’s greatest instance of Historicism in architecture’.

My best experience of the Ringstrasse was in 2015 when I was living nearby while teaching at the University of Vienna: the Ring became my regular early morning running route. But it also looms large in the story of my extended Viennese family, which I first wrote about in Good Living Street (Allen & Unwin and Pantheon, 2011) and that my cousin, Sue Course, has now written about too in Lost Letters from Vienna (Wild Dingo, 2019). Especially for visitors to the National Gallery of Victoria, which has become home to much of the material designed by the modernist architects Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos for members of our family at the start of the twentieth century, these books provide a pair. While mine fixes on Hoffmann’s work for my great-grandparents, Moriz and Hermine Gallia, Sue’s book reveals much more about Loos’s work for her great-uncle and great-aunt, Jakob and Melanie Langer.

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