Wednesday 25 March 2015

Picture post 40 - iconic art nouveau in Vienna

Vienna boasts many architectural treasures. The city is especially well known for its art nouveau buildings, also reffered to as the jugendstil or secessionist style. One of my favourites of this genre is the Engel Apotheke (Angel Pharmacy) at Bognerstrasse 9 in the city centre. The building itself is unremarkable, but the facade is decorated in stunning art nouveau style, featuring two glass mosaic angels that give the pharmacy its name.

The angels, dressed in vibrant purple and gold dresses, stand on stone pedestals raising healing potions with the snake of aesclepius, the ancient Greek god of medicine wound around their arms,  signifying the purpose of the store. The golden theme is repeated in the ringlets of both figures and in the sunflower freeze embedded in the wall above the large upper level windows. These windows are also decorated with a leaf freeze and wrought iron bars.  

Built between 1901 and 1902, the building, including its facade, was designed by Oskar Laske, a pupil of the great Otto Wagner. His decorative portal which spreads over the two lower levels of the pharmacy was intended to attract customers. It almost certainly did in 1901 when it would have been the height of modernity at a time when Klimt, Wagner, Hoffman and many others were at work in the city. Today it attracts art and architectural enthusiasts and historians, tourists and people needing prescriptions! 

Laske was involved in designing at least one other building of note in this style - the Nachtlicht, a cabaret where actors, dancers and musicians rubbed shoulders with the likes of architect and designer Adolf Loos and writers Karl Kraus and Peter Altenberg. I haven't been able to locate any pictures of Laske's work there and the club ran for only one year from 1906-7 before closing, upstaged by the legendary Cabaret Fledermaus. He went on to concentrate on painting rather than architecture, unsurprising given the beauty of his work at the Engel Apotheke. He worked primarily in water colours, recording his travels in Europe and North Africa, as well as being a book illustrator and graphic artist. Born in Czernowitz in 1874, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and today part of the Ukraine, he served in the First World War and died in Vienna in 1951.

If you are visiting Vienna and go to view this lovely facade, I also recommend a visit to the shop next door - Zum Schwarzen Kameel,  (The Black Camel) an elegant patisserie selling delicious Viennese sweets, cakes and biscuits. Believe me, I know about these things. There has been a restaurant and shop there since the seventeenth century but the current building dates from 1901 and also has some art nouveau features.

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