The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism

Etching of Peter Rosegger by Fritz Janschka, 1986 / Fritz Janschka, Four Seasons, 1994 (oil on board)

The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism was an art movement founded in post-war Austria by a group of young, mostly Austrian artists. These artists attended the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts together, and their teacher and mentor was Albert Paris Gütersloh, a dazzling, larger-than-life personality (1887-1973). Born in Vienna, Gütersloh, whose real name was Albert Conrad Kiehtreiber, studied with the painter Gustav Klimt. When he started his teaching career in 1930, he had already acquired an extraordinary amount of varied experience: he had been a journalist, a writer, an editor, an actor and a film director. Among his friends were some of the most outstanding writers of the early 20th century, including Heimito v. Doderer, Hugo v. Hofmannsthal, Robert Musil and Hermann Bahr.

From 1938 until the end of the Second World War he was banned from his teaching duties by the Nazis. In 1945, Gütersloh became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. Two years later, he became the first president of the newly-founded Arts Club which later gave rise to the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. Considered one of the most progressive platforms for young artists, the Arts Club’s mission was to fight for the autonomy of art. A number of exhibitions were organized by the Arts Club at the famous Vienna Secession, a permanent gallery founded by an art movement called Secession, or the Zedlitzgasse, where the Vienna Art Center was located.

Techniques and Sources
Gütersloh emphasized the techniques of the Old Masters which gave his students a grounding in realism, thus exposing them to the clarity and detail of early German and Flemish painting. Fantastic Realism combines religious and esoteric symbolism with elements of psychoanalysis. It is rooted in the Jugendstil and New Objectivity, an Expressionist art movement founded in Germany in the aftermath of World War I. Although Fantastic Realism was initially overshadowed by Abstract Art, it soon became accepted as a valid manifestation of modern independent Austrian art. Since it had initially associated itself with Surrealism, the Vienna School faced bitter denunciation by Surrealists and Surrealist groups. The differences, however, between Fantastic Realism and Surrealism were clearly evident. Orthodox Surrealists such as André Breton demanded that painting not be subject to any control by reason, whereas most of the Fantastic Realists created artificial spaces of fantasy which they then interpreted with their intellect.


Meet Fritz Janschka
The Viennese painter, sculptor and graphic artist Fritz Janschka is one of those artists whose place in the history of post-war European art has been secured. He, together with six other young artists, have been recognized as the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism: Ernst Fuchs (1930-), Rudolf Hausner (1914-1995), Wolfgang Hutter (1928-), Edgar Jené (1904-1984), Anton Lehmden (1929-) and Arik Brauer (1929-).

Born in 1919 in Vienna, Fritz Janschka entered the Academy of Fine Arts in 1943. He developed an affinity for the dream imagery and meticulous detail of the Surrealists. Whereas his style and craft are deeply seated in past traditions, his imagination is in a perpetual state of fast-forward. Visually seductive, his works delight the eye, even as they retain the capacity to challenge, puzzle, and even provoke.


New World
After achieving critical acclaim in Europe, he was eager to expand his horizons and accepted an opportunity to work in America. He arrived in 1949 without any knowledge of English and with the intent of staying only one year. This short visit grew to more than half a century of successful creative exploration.

Motivated by an insatiable curiosity, Fritz Janschka has pursued his own course through the constantly changing landscape of 20th century American culture. He carefully avoided fads as well as repetitive formulas. During the 1960s he constructed icons for fallout shelters, transforming the familiar imagery of Pop Art into ironic icons for a nuclear age. Mr. Janschka's current work continues to focus on the pictorial possibilities of transformation.

In his multiple variations on the recurring theme of metamorphosis, viewers invariably experience both surprise and recognition.

Mr. Janschka is an artist who prefers the light of his studio in Greensboro, North Carolina, to the glare of media exposure. Although he has had his share of success, his reputation is based not on celebrity status but on a sustained presence in the international art scene. His work is represented in prestigious public and private collections the world over, and he regularly exhibits in venues ranging from small galleries to major museums. At this point in his career he could afford to rest on his laurels and savor the recognition already accorded him in the many books and catalogues that feature his art. But as anyone who knows Fritz Janschka and is familiar with his innate modesty, realizes that this would be completely out of character.


Fritz Janschka, Four Seasons, 1994 (oil on board)

The Four Seasons is a self-portrait. The costumes he wears are borrowed from Rembrandt, as is his painting technique. It combines the sincerity of a tribute with gentle parody.