Heinrich Lefler (1863-1919) was arguably the finest of the Austrian artists who developed the Jugendstil at the fin de siècle. He was principally a scenic designer and in that capacity created sets for the Vienna Court Opera under the directorship of Gustav Mahler. He was also a pioneering illustrator. His work is characterized by sacred, chivalric, and fairy-tale themes.
In 1899 he designed the Österreichische Kalender Monatsbilder, a calendar in the Jugendstil, which endures as one of his masterpieces.
In 1900 Lefler founded an artist collective, the Hagenbund, with his brother-in-law Joseph Urban, a fellow stage designer and illustrator. Urban was also an architect. He designed, of all things, Mar-a-Lago. Lefler and Urban were frequent collaborators. They produced illustrations, sets, and public exhibitions, including a parade on the Ringstraße for the Emperor’s Diamond Jubilee in 1908. In 1900, Lefler and Urban created a beautiful illustrated edition of Die Buecher der Chronika der drei Schwestern (The Book of the Chronicles of the Three Sisters), a fairy tale by Johann Karl August Musäus.
Lefler followed up the Österreichische Monatsbilder with a fairy-tale calendar featuring one-off illustrations of Cinderella, The Frog Prince, The Little Mermaid, Sleeping Beauty, The Goose Girl, Godfather Death, Hansel and Gretel, Mary’s Child, Rapunzel, Snow-White and Rose-Red, and The Six Swans. This was published in 1905 by Berger & Wirth of Leipzig.
In addition to his illustrations, many of Lefler’s theatrical designs survive. Harvard University owns the most substantial collection, which it acquired from Max Reinhardt. It is kept at Houghton Library.
For more on Leifler, see here.
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