Marianne Fieglhuber-Gutscher (Vienna 1886 – 1978 Graz)


Julia Schwaiger


Female artist shares a difficult fate well into the 20th century. They were often ridiculed by their male colleagues, not taken seriously and excluded from the public art scene. It took a strong will to choose this path and assert yourself against the prevailing role models in order to strengthen your own position as a woman in art. An example of this strong will and assertiveness is the painter Marianne Fieglhuber-Gutscher.

Born in Vienna on August 12, 1886, the daughter of a respected Viennese merchant who ran a general store, she grew up in sheltered circumstances with three sisters and one brother. In an autobiographical text, she descries her childhood as exuberant and wild, although she adores the “genteel” and gracefulness of single women. She has always felt drawn to art, and when her teacher at the time gave her a sketchpad and books for her birthday, she intensified her passion. She attends the public school in the 6th district of Vienna, Mariahilf, where her teacher has already predicted a career as a painter. As a teenager, she considers becoming a teacher before she decides to pursue art. While the mother wants her “girls to be well married”, the father is of the opinion that “the girls (should) learn something, because with four girls there was not a great chance that all four would get married”. She was finally able to assert her wish with her parents and, at the age of 18, began her studies at the Art School for Women and Girls, which is run by Ludwig Michalek. This institution, co-founded in 1897 by the painters Olga Prager, Rosa Mayreder and Tina Blau, is the first public art school for women in Vienna, who previously could only be privately taught painting, sculpture or graphics. Between 1904 and 1909 she learned the technique of etching from Ludwig Michalek as part of her training and became his assistant in the etching class. Later she receives painting lessons from Rudolf Jettmar and Max Kurzweil. During these years she also joined the “Radierklub Wiener Künstlerinnen” founded by Michalek`s students and took part in several exhibitions in the club`s network, including in Vienna, Salzburg and Leipzig.

The Burgeoning self-confidence of female artists, who no longer want to exclude themselves and make themselves dependent on the male art world, is also reflected in the founding of schools and associations. Thus, in 1910, the “Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs” (Union of Austrian Women Artists) came into being, which Marianne Fieglhuber joined. She takes part in their exhibitions, such as that in 1917 at the Liljevalchs Konsthall in Stockholm. The first study trips can also be dated to these years: 1913 to France and 1914 to Norway and Sweden.

On June 9, 1914, Marianne Fieglhuber married her cousin Eduard Gutscher, with whom she moved into an apartment at Sandwirtgasse 1 in Vienna`s 6th district, which she also used as a studio. On June 28, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Spohie are assassinated in Sarajevo, and Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. With the beginning of the First World War, Eduard Gutscher was also drafted and the young couple suddenly separated. During these difficult years, their children were born, their daughter Marianne in 1915 and their son Eduard in 1917. Due to the hardships of that time and the additional family obligations, Fieglhuber-Gutscher hardly had any scope for her artistic work. As she herself describes, her husband returns from the war much changed. He behaves in a dominant and short-tempered manner and is authoritarian and strict towards the children. He had no understanding for his wife`s painting and downright rejects them, which explains why only a few works were created at this time. However, as far as possible, she continued her work in her studio at home, as an exhibition at the Künstlerhaus in 1919 shows. Here she is represented with oil paintings showing portraits of her daughter and son.

For the entry in the Österreichisches Künstlerlexikon, Fieglhuber-Gutscher wrote in 1947 looking back on her training and the time thereafter: “I attended the Art School for Women and Girls and later tried to make some progress on my own.” Pushed towards art, she continues to emancipate herself. In addition, the good financial position of the family allowed the employment of a cook and a housekeeper, which in turn gave the painter the opportunity to devote more time to art. In order to “proceed further”, she took private lessons from younger painter colleagues Robin Christian Andersen and Egge Sturm-Skrly and developed towards Expressionism. In accordance with her desire for art, but also due to the circumstances, she primarily paints portraits of her family and those around her. A characteristic emerges in her work, in which from now on she mainly turns to painting people. Fieglhuber-Gutscher in increasingly asserting herself against her husband in this way in the in-house studio. In an interview, the painter says: “My studio, which is here in my apartment and in which I spent the happiest hours of my life, because they belonged entirely to me and my artistic work, is without any special control.” At the same time, she is aware of her role as wife and mother and, when asked about her nudes says: “Understandably, I can only paint female nudes. You will see that as a married woman and as a mother I am not very good at daring about the male nude. (…) Draw suspicion on me, why ultimately put me and my family in a bad light?” Following these social constraints, the artist works with few and mostly female models, from whom she can always find something new to gain. She explains that she is fascinated by the strange play of colors and that she cannot rest until she has the nude on the canvas true to life without any flattery. The special thing about her nudes is certainly the female perspective on the female body. Without voyeurism and unembellished, she captures the feminine forms and embeds the figures in scenes of quiet familiarity.

It is striking that in almost all of the artist`s images of people, women are the focus. With the exception of depictions of her son and isolated portraits, Fieglhuber-Gutscher depicts women from their environment, mostly embedded in the security on a room – probably their studio. This choice of motif is reminiscent of the variations on the same theme in the works of her painter colleague Josef Floch, who positioned his models in a room without any visible relationship to one another. While a melancholy resonates with Floch, the works by Fieglhuber-Gutscher suggest a secure bond among those portrayed, togetherness and cohesion – values that may also be based on the increased femininity of the 1920s and 1930s. In her self-portraits, the painter appears confident and dominates the pictorial space, as the “Portrait with cactuses” shows. “…as far as the many press releases can prove to me, I seem to have hit the right thing for the most part,” she says about herself and, in addition to positive revies in the press, also receives recognition from the public through exhibitions in the Künstlerhaus, the Secession and the Würthle Gallery.

In the 1920s, Fieglhuber-Gutscher finds her characteristic style of expressive color realism. The coloring gains in importance in her work and becomes a defining element in her late work. She is enthusiastic about the works of Oskar Kokoschka, is in contact with Josef Dobrowsky and, through her participation in exhibitions, is in contact not only with the female artists of the time but also with the male colleagues. In the color-intensive expressiveness, her work and she as a self-confident painter are on an equal footing.

Due to the political developments at the end of the 1930s, her work was again made more difficult from outside. The painter is extremely critical of Austria's annexation to National Socialist Germany, not least because some of her friends are Jews. At first the family stays in the apartment in Vienna. In order to be able to exhibit and sell, she joined the Reichskammer der bildenden Künste (Reich Chamber of Fine Arts) in 1939. In 1943, however, she refused an exhibition of her paintings because her work did not correspond to the “Fuhrer's cultural guidelines”. She retreats to a small house in Kasten, her second home near Böheimkirchen in Lower Austria. Only a few works were created during these years, which mainly show the landscape of their surroundings. At the end of the war, Fieglhuber-Gutscher returned to Vienna and resumed her work and exhibition activities. From 1948 she presented her work in exhibitions of the "Neuer Hagenbund" in the Vienna Secession.

From the 1950s she commutes between Vienna, Kasten and Gratkorn near Graz. While she later shares the apartment and house with her son's family in Vienna and Kasten, she regularly visits her now married daughter in Gratkorn and supports her with her two small children. In Styria she also becomes active as an artist and joins the association of visual artists in Styria.

In 1956 she received her first commission for a work in public space. She created the “Family” mosaic for the facade of the newly built residential complex at Rechberggasse 16-20 in Vienna’s 10th district. In 1968 the artist also designed a glass window for the Cistercian monastery in Rein. It was created on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the diocese of Graz Seckau and shows the last communion of Saint Eberhard, Archbishop of Salzburg.

In the 1950s and above all with the death of her husband in 1955, a new freedom began for the artist. She undertakes numerous journeys that take her to Scandinavia, Belgium, Holland, Scotland and south to Spain, Greece and Egypt. She records the impressions in her sketch pad and makes notes on what she has experienced. During this time there were also further participations in group exhibitions and individual shows, including at the Joanneum in Graz in 1960, 1969 and 1974.

As a cosmopolitan, critical and inquisitive person, Fieglhuber-Gutscher admires the arts in all their forms. She is interested in literature and reads works by Simone de Beauvoir, Paul Claudel, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust and Franz Werfel and makes notes in her notebooks. Another passion is music. She meticulously notes concert visits and radio broadcasts, and captures smaller and private performances by choirs and musicians in her paintings. She often depicts her own children and grandchildren playing music.

Religious themes also find their way into her work. She is more interested in the figurative representations than in faith, which she works on critically in the search for perfection and sometimes even executes the same representations in several paintings, slightly modified. A particular conspicuousness in comparison to other artists is that in their religious works hardly any male figure is shown next to the baby Jesus. In Fieglhuber-Gutscher's world of images, women are the main protagonists of the divine.

The presence of women in all their manifestations runs like a red thread through the artist's work. Inspired by a strong will, she defies the obstacles that are put in her way, stands up for her convictions and convinces with her art. As early as 1930, Otto Hans Joachim recognized her ability in his report on Fieglhuber-Gutscher and wrote: “Only a great flatterer of women could say that women would only stay at the beginning of art forever. The best way to show how wrong this great flatterer is is in the works of Marianne Fieglhuber-Gutscher, who will soon be among the best among Austrian painters.” awarded the title of professor. Marianne Fieglhuber-Gutscher died on January 20, 1978 in Graz at the age of 91. Shortly before her death, the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere and after her death the Joanneum Graz dedicated a retrospective to the artist.




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