Some works had been hidden away in attics and storerooms gathering dust. The Belvedere's artistic director, Stella Rollig, says these artists "were and still are a great inspiration, and their works have been wrongly ignored for almost a century".

Struggle for equality

It was hard for female artists to break through, even before the Nazis condemned modernism as "degenerate".

Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts did not open its doors to women students until 1920 (and a dozen years earlier had twice rejected Adolf Hitler for lack of talent, badly shaking the teenager). Ambitious women artists often had to pay high fees to private teachers.

Frustrated by male prejudice, a group of women founded the Austrian Association of Women Artists (Vereinigung bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs; VBKÖ) in 1910.

A major female contributor to Viennese modernism was Broncia Koller-Pinell. In the early 20th century she was praised by critics and fellow artists in Vienna and internationally.

Her 1908 landscape "The Harvest" – showing French Impressionist influence – is among her works displayed at the Belvedere.

She had influence in intellectual circles; for example, she knew Klimt and Schiele, both of whom included female artists in exhibitions. After her death in 1934, with Nazi Germany's ascendancy, her reputation was largely forgotten.

Sexual controversy

A life-size marble sculpture called "Witch Doing Her Toilette on Walpurgis Night" caused a sensation when first exhibited in Vienna in 1896. Some critics saw the witch's expression as too lustful, and accused artist Teresa Feodorowna Ries of using a noble stone to create a vulgar grimace.

But Ries had some prominent admirers, including the great Viennese novelist Stefan Zweig.

In 1938 Nazi stormtroopers ransacked Ries's studio and in 1942 she fled from Austria but had to leave all her works in Switzerland.

Elena Luksch-Makowsky's self-portrait with her little boy – called "Ver Sacrum" – looks a picture of innocence. But the 1902 work was controversial. The working mother's pose recalls the Madonna and Child theme of countless classical artists. Here the artist wears her painter's overalls – yet women at that time were expected to concentrate on raising their children.

Helene Funke, from eastern Germany, spent her early career in France, where she became interested in Impressionism and Fauvism. Some of her paintings were exhibited in France alongside works by Henri Matisse (1869-1954), Georges Braque (1882-1963) and Maurice de Vlaminck (1876-1958).

From 1911 until her death in 1957 she lived in Vienna. She enjoyed artistic success until the Nazi annexation of Austria, the Anschluss, in March 1938. She lived as a recluse during the war. Funke's reputation was not properly restored until an exhibition in Linz showcased her work in 2007.

Victims of Nazis

Friedl Dicker was a left-wing Jewish artist who expressed her horror at Nazi abuses in several works, notably in "Interrogation I" and "Interrogation II", painted in the 1930s.

She was interrogated and during World War Two died in the Holocaust. The Nazis deported her to Theresienstadt concentration camp-ghetto north of Prague in 1942, where she managed to give art classes to Jewish children. But later she was murdered in Auschwitz, along with more than a million other Jews.

Ilse Twardowski-Conrat was another Jewish artist persecuted by the Nazis in Vienna. The sculptor destroyed her biggest works and committed suicide in 1942, after she was ordered to report to the Jewish community with her possessions.

Her works were exhibited at major shows before the Nazi period. They include a bust of Empress Elisabeth of Austria (1837-1898).

She spent her youth in intellectual circles and knew the composers Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) personally.

Emilie Mediz-Pelikan painted "Blooming Chestnut Trees" in 1900. She was admired for her use of intense colours and detailed brushwork.

Her main theme was the power of nature, and her work often featured mountains and Mediterranean scenes. Her husband Karl Mediz was also a painter.

The exhibition in the Lower Belvedere expands the view of Viennese Modernism and focuses on those women who actively helped shape the art scene at the beginning of the 20h century. At that time, women who wanted to become artists were still at a severe disadvantage. They were denied access to education and artists’ associations, and thus to exhibition opportunities.

In spite of these hurdles, some of them managed to successfully build a career. In the predominantly male art business, they had to fight hard to gain a foothold. They found training opportunities and developed strategies to market themselves. By establishing their own artists’ associations, they were able to network and become active in the art scene.

Many of them exhibited at the Secession, the Hagenbund, the Salon Pisko and the Miethke Gallery. Despite the fact that, in recent years, the lives and works of some of these formerly renowned artists have been researched and compiled into retrospectives, their work is still underestimated in importance and barely appreciated for what it is.

This show brings these women back into focus. On view, in part, are rediscovered works – some of which are being presented for the first time ever – by those artists who were known in their time, but whose eminence today has completely vanished. They were nonetheless able to leave their marks on art movements such as Atmospheric Impressionism (‘Stimmungsimpressionismus’), Secessionism, Expressionism, Kinetism and New Objectivity.

On view are works by Ilse Bernheimer, Maria Cyrenius, Friedl Dicker, Marie Egner, Louise Fraenkel-Hahn, Helene Funke, Greta Freist, Margarete Hamerschlag, Fanny Harlfinger-Zakucka, Hermine Heller-Ostersetzer, Johanna Kampmann-Freund, Elisabeth Karlinsky, Erika Giovanna Klien, Broncia Koller-Pinell, Frida Konstantin Lohwag, Elza Kövesházi-Kalmár, Leontine von Littrow, Elena Luksch-Makowsky, Mariette Lydis, Emilie Mediz-Pelikan, Teresa Feodorowna Ries, Mileva Roller, Frieda Salvendy, Emma Schlangenhausen, Anny Schröder-Ehrenfest, Lilly Steiner, Helene Taussig, Ilse Twardowski-Conrat, My Ullmann, Olga Wisinger-Florian, Grete Wolf Krakauer oder Franziska Zach.

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