XIVth exhibition 1902, left side-aisle with the Beethoven Frieze by Gustav Klimt, Photo: Archive of Secession

The 1902 Beethoven Exhibition

Gustav Klimt created the famous Beethoven Frieze for the XIVth exhibition of the Association of Visual Artists Vienna Secession, which was held between April 15 and June 27, 1902. Conceived as a tribute to the composer Ludwig van Beethoven, the presentation epitomized the Secessionists’ vision of an encompassing synthesis of the arts. Twenty-one artists worked together under the direction of Josef Hoffmann. At the center of the exhibition, in the main hall, stood Max Klinger’s Beethoven statue. In addition to Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, the show featured wall paintings and decorations by Alfred Roller, Adolf Böhm, Ferdinand Andri and numerous other artists. The stated objective was to reunite the separate arts—architecture, painting, sculpture and music—under a common theme: the “work of art” was to emerge from the interplay of the design of the rooms and the wall paintings and sculptures.

Klimt’s monumental wall cycle was located in the left-hand aisle, which visitors to the exhibition entered first. An opening in the wall offered a view of Max Klinger’s Beethoven statue, hinting at the intended synergy of architecture, painting (Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze) and sculpture (Klinger’s Beethoven).

With nearly 60,000 visitors, the XIVth exhibition was one of the Secession’s greatest public successes. It also proved crucial to Klimt’s further development, as well as that of numerous other participating artists: the ideal of the interplay and aesthetic integration of all artistic disciplines and the collaboration tested in the Beethoven exhibition was successfully continued by the Wiener Werkstätte, among others.

Today the Beethoven Frieze is considered one of Klimt’s key works and a highlight of Viennese Art Nouveau.