Friedrich Viktor Spitzer

Friedrich Viktor Spitzer photographed by Heinrich Kühn, 1907
© Museum Folkwang Essen – ARTOTHEK

Friedrich Viktor Spitzer was a chemist and industrialist. Initially an amateur photographer, he became one of the most renowned artistic photographers and portrait photographers in Vienna around 1900. He was best known for his portraits of various artists of Viennese Modernism, including Kolo Moser, Gustav Klimt and Gustav Mahler.

Friedrich Viktor Spitzer, the son of the sugar manufacturer David Spitzer (1812–1895), was born to a Jewish family in Butschowitz in Moravia (now Bučovice, Czech Republic) on 4 February 1854. He grew up in Zurich and studied chemistry in Zurich, Leipzig, Bonn and Göttingen from 1869, earning his doctorate in 1875. He subsequently worked as an assistant at the Chemical University Laboratory in Vienna. He abandoned Judaism in 1899. He attended courses at the Training and Research Institute of Graphic Arts in the years 1895–1898 and 1904/05. His financial independence as a large landowner and industrialist in the sugar sector allowed him to intensively pursue his interest in amateur photography.

Spitzer installed his first studio at his apartment at Schleifmühlgasse 4 and initially focused primarily on gum prints, later also on more experimental processes, such as bromoil prints. Spitzer made a name for himself as a photographer and became a member of numerous Austrian and international photographers’ associations. He was accepted as a member of the renowned London-based association Linked Ring as early as 1892, joined the Vienna Camera-Club in 1897 and became an honorary member of the Vienna Photo-Club in 1904. He also participated in exhibitions.

Spitzer’s initially traditional iconography became more and more expressive from the turn of the century and he became one of the most important artistic photographers in Vienna, alongside the “Trifolium” – Hugo Henneberg, Heinrich Kühn and Hans Watzek. He was connected to Henneberg not only in the aesthetics of their photographs but also by the fact that they were neighbors in the artists’ colony “Auf der Hohen Warte.” Both Henneberg and Spitzer were important patrons of the Secession and supporters of modern art movements. Since Joseph Maria Olbrich was unable to realize his idea of an artists’ colony in Vienna himself after having been called to Darmstadt, he continued to correspond with Carl Moll on the matter. Moll went ahead with the project together with the prospective homeowners – Henneberg, Kolo Moser, Carl von Reininghaus and Spitzer – and with Josef Hoffman as the executing architect. Spitzer had his villa at Steinfeldgasse 4 built according to Hoffmann’s plans around 1901. Hoffmann had integrated the interior decoration of Spitzer’s city apartment, designed by Olbrich. The first floor housed a “photographic studio” and two guest rooms were installed in the attic. Next door, at Steinfeldgasse 6-8, Moll and Moser shared a duplex.

Even before the construction of the artists’ colony, Spitzer, who was very musical and a great singer, had been a close friend of Moll’s and a frequent visitor at Berta Zuckerkandl’s salon. He photographed personalities of Vienna’s high society, including Emil Zuckerkandl, Sonja Knips and Adele Bloch-Bauer. He also portrayed his neighbors and artist friends Moser, Moll, Hoffmann and Gustav Mahler as well as the writers Arthur Schnitzler, Hermann Bahr and Felix Salten.

Spitzer not only socialized with the Secessionists, he also presented several gum prints at the “XIII. Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs” [13th Exhibition of the Association of Austrian Artists”] in 1902, where his photographs were shown together with works by Henneberg, Kühn and Watzek. When Ferdinand Hodler came to Vienna to participate in the “XIX. Ausstellung der Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs Secession” [“19th Exhibition of the Association of Austrian Artists Secession”] in 1904, he stayed with Spitzer and had his portrait taken by him. Spitzer had already portrayed Gustav Klimt in a traditional style around 1899. In 1905 he created a series of bromoil prints that betrayed a tendency towards Pictorialism and showed Klimt in his painter’s smock. Spitzer photographed Klimt again in 1907, once more in his painter’s smock, this time seated in an upholstered armchair. The picture was published together with portraits of Bahr, Knips and Adele Bloch-Bauer in the journal Photographische Rundschau in 1908.

Apart from the Photographische Rundschau, magazines such as the Wiener Photographische Blätter and the Photographische Korrespondenz also published many of Friedrich Viktor Spitzer’s modern photographs. He presented his works repeatedly at the renowned Miethke Gallery, the Secession and the Hagenbund in Vienna, at the C. Schulte Gallery in Berlin and at many further exhibitions, to mostly very positive critiques. In a lecture he gave in 1913, Hugo Erfurth compared Spitzer’s oeuvre to that of Heinrich Kühn and emphasized the “[…] lively distribution of bright and dark areas with an ingeniously motivated presentation of all essentials through contrast, an intelligent treatment of personal aspects, a mastering of the peculiarities of the technical process.”

Friedrich Viktor Spitzer never married and died on 18 February 1922. He was buried in a family grave at Vienna’s Central Cemetery.

Literature and sources

  • Wiener Camera-Club (Hg.): Wiener Photographische Blätter, 4. Jg., Nummer 3 (1897), S. 88.
  • Wiener Camera-Club (Hg.): Internationale Ausstellung ausgewählter künstlerischer Photographien, Ausst.-Kat., Gallery H. O. Miethke (Vienna), 15.02.1905–15.03.1905, Vienna 1905, Nr. 160-165.
  • Franz Schiffner: Zwanzig Jahre Camera-Klub, in: Wiener Camera-Club (Hg.): Jahrbuch des Camera-Clubs in Wien 1907, Vienna 1907, S. 3-15, S. 12-13.
  • Hugo Erfurth: Die Entwicklung der Bildnisphotographie. Gekürzt; nach einem mit 110 Lichtbildern illustrierten Vortrage, gehalten in der Plenarversammlung der k. k. Photographischen Gesellschaft in Wien am 11. März 1913, in: Photographische Correspondenz, 50. Jg., Nummer 631 (1913), S. 189.
  • N. N.: Mitgliederverzeichnis. Geschlossen am 15. Juni 1914, in: Wiener Camera-Club (Hg.): Jahrbuch des Camera-Clubs in Wien, Vienna 1914, S. 9-18.
  • Österreichisches Biographisches Lexikon. Friedrich Viktor Spitzer. (09/11/2020).
  • Agnes Husslein-Arco, Alfred Weidinger (Hg.): Klimt & Emilie Flöge. Fotografien, Vienna 2012, S. 233.
  • Schüler-Verzeichnis. Schuljahr 1889/90, k. k. Graphische Lehr und Versuchsanstalt in Wien.
  • Anthony Beaumont (Hg.): Alma Mahler-Werfel. Tagebuch-Suiten. 1898–1902, Frankfurt am Main 1997.
  • Grabstätte Dr. Friedrich Viktor Spitzer. (02/09/2022).
  • Astrid Mahler: Liebhaberei der Millionäre. Der Wiener Camera-Club um 1900. Beiträge zur Geschichte der Fotografie in Österreich. Band 18, Vienna 2019.
  • Friedrich Achleitner: Österreichische Architektur im 20. Jahrhundert, Band III, Vienna 2010, S. 100.
  • N. N.: Sterbeanzeige David Spitzer, in: Neue Freie Presse, 13.11.1895, S. 15.
  • N. N.: Die Villenkolonie auf der Hohen Warte, in: Der Architekt. Wiener Monatshefte für Bau- und Raumkunst, 9. Jg. (1903), Tafel 85-88.
  • N. N.: Villenkolonie Hohe Warte. Erbaut von Josef Hoffmann, in: Das Interieur. Wiener Monatshefte für angewandte Kunst, 4. Jg. (1903), S. 153-184.
  • Amelia Sarah Levetus: Professor Hoffmann’s Artist Colony, Vienna, in: The International Studio. An Illustrated Magazine of Fine and Applied Art, Band 32 (1904), S. 125-132.
  • F. Matthies-Masuren: Zu den Bildern von Friedr. Spitzer, in: Photographische Rundschau und photographisches Centralblatt. Zeitschrift für Freunde der Photographie, Nummer 18 (1904), S. 135-150.
  • Brief mit Kuvert von Gustav Klimt an Carl Moll (05/19/1899).