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Views of Albion

The Reception of British Art and Design in Central Europe, 1890–1918


Andrzej Szczerski

Views of Albion is the first comprehensive study of the reception of British art and design in Central Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. The author proposes a new map of European Art Nouveau, where direct contacts between peripheral cultures were more significant than the influence of Paris. These new patterns of artistic exchange, often without historic precedence, gave art during this period its unique character and dynamism.
Beginning with an analysis of the concept of Central Europe, the book examines knowledge about British art and design in the region. In subsequent chapters the author looks at the reception of the Pre-Raphaelites in painting and graphic arts as well as analysing diverse responses to the Arts and Crafts Movement in Germany, Austria, Poland, Bohemia, Slovakia, Hungary and Southern Slavic countries. The epilogue reveals the British interest in Central Europe, echoed in the designs Walter Crane, Charles Robert Ashbee and publications of The Studio.
The book questions the insularity of British culture and offers new insights into art and design of Central Europe at the fin de siècle. It presents the region as a vital part of the international Art Nouveau, but also shows its specific features, visible in the works of artists such as Alfons Mucha, Gustav Klimt and Stanisław Wyspiański.
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CHAPTER 1: Does Central Europe Exist?


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Does Central Europe Exist?

Looking for Central Europe

The question asked in the title of Timothy Garton Ash’s essay seems to be a metaphor for the issues surrounding the very concept “Central Europe” (Figure 1) – according to another scholar of the region, Friedrich Achleitner, what is dangerous to Central Europe is its non-existence.1 The process of forgetting Central Europe turns out to be a persistent feature of European culture dating back to the eighteenth century. To paraphrase Alfred Jarry, the history of Central European art is set in Central Europe, that is to say, nowhere.2

This chapter attempts to trace the key perceptions of Central Europe in contemporary historical studies at present. The Central European debate which began in the 1970s and intensified after 1989 focuses on several fundamental issues. One of those is the attempt to identify Central Europe’s differentia specifica compared to other parts of the continent. That debate is both positive, as it discusses the membership criteria of the Central European club, and negative, as it captures the differences between Central Europe and, for instance, the Balkans or Eastern Europe ← 7 | 8 → (not to mention Western Europe). Arguments employed in the debate refer to Central Europe as a common cultural space where political history is only one of many points of reference. In another perspective, political and also economic history is the key issue for researchers for whom the distinctness of the region derives...

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