Carl Otto Czeschka

Koloman Moser: Carl Otto Czeschka, around 1907, Tyrolean State Museum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck
© Tiroler Landesmuseum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck

Carl Otto Czeschka, a true “Universalkünstler” or universal artist, was primarily active as a graphic artist and craftsman, but was also a painter, costume and stage designer, as well as an illustrator and typographer. He never accepted the offer of membership in the Vienna Secession. From 1905, he was one of the most important designers of the Wiener Werkstätte and in 1907 he moved to Hamburg to teach at the local School of Arts and Crafts.

Carl Otto Czeschka was born in Vienna on 22 October 1878 and, having been granted a scholarship, attended the Esterhazy Grammar School at first. He then began a six-month apprenticeship as a cabinetmaker with his father while enrolling at the State Secondary School. From 1891 on he attended evening drawing lessons at the Imperial-Royal Educational and Research Institution for Photography and Reproduction (now Höhere Graphische Bundes-Lehr- und Versuchsanstalt), drawing studies of costumes and ornaments, weapons, and courtly and ecclesiastical objects.

Czeschka studied under Christian Griepenkerl at the Academy of Fine Arts from 1894 to 1897 and, together with Gustav Klimt, Kolo Moser, and Josef Hoffmann, formed a group of artists called Siebener-Club. Starting in 1898, he designed prints in the form of vignettes for the portfolios Allegories. Neue Folge [“Allegories. New Series”] and Allerlei Gedanken [“All Kinds of Thoughts”], which were published by Martin Gerlach. Although he moved in avant-garde circles, Czeschka was not among the Vienna Secession’s founding members and never agreed to become a member in 1900, as was suggested to him by the then president Carl Moll. Turning away from Historicism, he developed into one of the leading graphic artists and illustrators of the Viennese style and taught at the Imperial-Royal School of Arts and Crafts from 1902 on, with Rudolf Kalvach, Oskar Kokoschka, and Editha Mautner-Markhof among his students.

Carl Otto Czeschka and the Concept of Gesamtkunstwerk
Influenced by the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk [universal work of art] and by the international Arts and Crafts movement presented at the “VIII. Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession” [“8th Exhibition of the Association of Austrian Artists Secession”], Czeschka did not limit himself to the graphic arts while working for the Wiener Werkstätte from 1905 on: he also designed jewelry, textiles, furniture, toys, and everyday objects and that same year took part in the Wiener Werkstätte’s trend-setting exhibition at the new branch office of Galerie H. O. Miethke on Graben. In the company of Fritz Waerndorfer and Josef Hoffmann, the Wiener Werkstätte’s founders, and Gustav Klimt, he traveled to London in 1906 to visit the “Imperial-Royal Austrian Exhibition” at Earls Court and on the return trip inspected the construction site of the Stoclet Palace in Brussels. The Wiener Werkstätte’s most comprehensive project and masterpiece most clearly symbolized the ideal of a Gesamtkunstwerk, to which Klimt contributed with his famous mosaic frieze and for which Carl Otto Czeschka created various designs for wallpaper, textiles, furniture, stained glass windows, and reliefs. In 1907 he participated in the decoration of the opening play Masken by Peter Altenberg at the Cabaret Fledermaus, worked on costume and stage designs for Nibelungen at the Raimund Theater and King Lear for Max Reinhardt at the Deutsches Theater in Berlin. Another of Czeschka’s important commissions was the Wiener Werkstätte furnishings for Karl and Leopoldine Wittgenstein’s hunting lodge on Hochreith, for which he designed furniture coverings and its own signet. Furthermore, he exhibited at the “Kunstschau Wien” of 1908, which was organized by the so-called Klimt Group, and was a contributor to the magazines Erdgeist and Die Kunstwelt.

A Call from Hamburg
In October 1907, he accepted an appointment as professor at the Hamburg School of Arts and Crafts, where he took over the master class for Surface Design and Graphic Art and was put in charge of the Bookbinding Workshop. Compared to his earlier naturalistic works, his style changed, as he adopted geometric forms, archaic and symbolic motifs, and arabesque-like ornaments, and he took an interest in typology. However, Czeschka was not the only Viennese professor in Hamburg, as a few months earlier, in April 1907, Richard Luksch had already moved to the School of Arts and Crafts there.

Czeschka was committed to reforming academic education. One of his main concerns was to put arts and crafts, applied arts and fine arts, on an equal footing and promote their synthesis from a practical perspective. He continued to work for the Wiener Werkstätte during his time in Hamburg and received commissions for commercial art, applied art projects, interior decoration, stained glass windows, and costume and stage designs.

In 1914, he became a member of the Werkbund and designed various typefaces, such as Czeschka Antiqua and Czeschka Vienna. The title of the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, which he designed in 1946, is still used today. The Bahlsen cookie factory asked him to design cookie decorations and military postcards. Especially his work for the Wolff cigar factory from 1918 onward, ranging from store interiors and packaging to advertising posters, was to remain relevant for many years.

During the Nazi era, he concentrated on teaching and in 1943 retired early. During World War I, Czeschka’s studio and the stained glass windows he had designed for the Hamburg School of Arts and Crafts, were destroyed in bomb attacks. After the death of his wife Martha in 1951, Carl Otto Czeschka lived in seclusion and died in Hamburg on 30 July 1960.

Literature and sources

  • Carl Otto Czeschka, Josef Hoffmann, Ausführung Wiener Werkstätte, Paravent für das Palais Karl Wittgenstein. bda.gv.at/de/aktuelles/artikel/2002/09/carl-otto-czeschka-josef-hoffmann-ausfuehrung-wiener-werkstaette-paravent-fuer-das-palais-karl-wittg/ (05/15/2020).
  • Bettina Berendes: Carl Otto Czeschka. Die Schönheit als Botschaft. Glasfenster der Hamburger Kunstgewerbeschule, Keel 2005.
  • Markus Kristan: Kunstschau Wien 1908, Vienna 2016.
  • Christian Witt-Döring: Palais Stoclet, in: Christian Witt-Döring, Janis Staggs (Hg.): Wiener Werkstätte 1903-1932. The Luxury of Beauty, New York 2017, S. 368-409.
  • Heinz Spielmann, Hella Häussler, Rüdiger Joppien: Carl Otto Czeschka. Ein Wiener Künstler in Hamburg. Mit unveröffentlichten Briefen, Goettingen 2019.
  • Senta Siller: Carl Otto Czeschka 1878–1960. Leben und Werk. Dissertation, Berlin 1993.
  • Josef August Lux: Moderne Kunstausstellung, in: Arbeiter-Zeitung, 13.12.1905, S. 1-2.
  • Brief von Fritz Waerndorfer in Wien an Hermann Muthesius (04/09/1906). D 102-6648.
  • Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven: Carl Otto Czeschka, in: Alte und moderne Kunst. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kunst, Kunsthandwerk und Wohnkultur, 6. Jg., Heft 47 (1961), S. 14-17.
  • Hans Ries: Carl Otto Czeschka, in: Günter Meissner, Andreas Beyer, Bénedicte Savoy (Hg.): Allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon. Die bildenden Künstler aller Zeiten und Völker, Band XXIII, Berlin - New York 1999, S. 306.
  • Handelskammer Hamburg (Hg.): CARL OTTO CZESCHKA 1878 - 1960. Ein Wiener Künstler und die Hamburger Wirtschaft, Hamburg 2011.
  • Hella Häussler: Carl Otto Czeschkas Leben und Nachleben, in: Handelskammer Hamburg (Hg.): CARL OTTO CZESCHKA 1878 - 1960. Ein Wiener Künstler und die Hamburger Wirtschaft, Hamburg 2011, S. 18.