Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900

Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900

by Tim Bonyhady

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Vienna and its Secessionist movement at the turn of the last century is the focus of this extraordinary social portrait told through an eminent Viennese family, headed by Hermine and Moriz Gallia, who were among the great patrons of early-twentieth-century Viennese culture at its peak.
Good Living Street takes us from the Gallias’

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Vienna and its Secessionist movement at the turn of the last century is the focus of this extraordinary social portrait told through an eminent Viennese family, headed by Hermine and Moriz Gallia, who were among the great patrons of early-twentieth-century Viennese culture at its peak.
Good Living Street takes us from the Gallias’ middle-class prosperity in the provinces of central Europe to their arrival in Vienna, following the provision of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1848 that gave Jews freedom of movement and residence, legalized their religious services, opened public service and professions up to them, and allowed them to marry.
The Gallias, like so many hundreds of thousands of others, came from across the Hapsburg Empire to Vienna, and for the next two decades the city that became theirs was Europe’s center of art, music, and ideas.
The Gallias lived beyond the Ringstrasse in Vienna’s Fourth District on the Wohllebengasse (translation: Good Living Street), named after Vienna’s first nineteenth-century mayor.
In this extraordinary book we see the amassing of the Gallias’ rarefied collections of art and design; their cosmopolitan society; we see their religious life and their efforts to circumvent the city’s rampant anti-Semitism by the family’s conversion to Catholicism along with other prominent intellectual Jews, among them Gustav Mahler. While conversion did not free Jews from anti-Semitism, it allowed them to secure positions otherwise barred to them.
Two decades later, as Kristallnacht raged and Vienna burned, the Gallias were having movers pack up the contents of their extraordinary apartment designed by Josef Hoffmann. The family successfully fled to Australia, bringing with them the best private collection of art and design to escape Nazi Austria; included were paintings, furniture, three sets of silver cutlery, chandeliers, letters, diaries, books and bookcases, furs—chinchilla, sable, sealskin—and even two pianos, one upright and one Steinway.
Not since the publication of Carl Schorske’s acclaimed portrait of Viennese modernism, Fin-de-Siècle Vienna, has a book so brilliantly—and completely—given us this kind of close-up look at turn-of-the-last-century Viennese culture, art, and daily life—when the Hapsburg Empire was fading and modernism and a new order were coming to the fore.
Good Living Street re-creates its world, atmosphere, people, energy, and spirit, and brings it all to vivid life.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This disquieting family saga begins in early 20th-century Vienna and ends in Sydney, Australia, portraying through three generations of the author’s family the patriotism, conservatism, and love of culture among Viennese Jewish haute bourgeoisie and their dispersal after the Nazi Anschluss in 1938. The section on the author’s maternal great-grandparents, Moritz and Hermine Gallia, is the book’s highlight. The Gallias, Jews who had converted to Catholicism, were patrons of Vienna’s modern artists, including Gustav Klimt (who painted Hermine’s portrait) and the art and design group Wiener Werkstätte. The descriptions of the early years of the Holocaust in Austria, as seen through the Gallias’ eyes, are vivid, including daughter Käthe’s arrest and interrogation by the Nazis (who knew of the family’s Jewish origins). Käthe and her older sister, Gretl, eventually fled to Australia; Gretl’s daughter Anne is the author’s mother. Bonyhady, an art historian and environmental lawyer in Australia, sticks so closely to the family story that he stints on historical context (e.g., he writes, “the Australian Jewish Welfare Society was ambivalent about Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis,” without further explanation). Still, Bonyhady’s book does a real service by unearthing the story of a prominent Jewish family during Vienna’s artistic flowering and the impact of WWII. 8 pages of color photos, b&w photos. (Nov.)
From the Publisher
“Bonyhady has delved deeply into his forebears’ concert books, travel logs, letters, and death certificates in an effort to reconstruct his family’s identity and, for his mother, to place ‘a value on her life that she did not.’ The result is a lucid, poignant generational tale of loss of material wealth and cultural identity that provides new perspective and insight into both Holocaust and immigration studies.”

 “Tim Bonyhady goes far beyond the story of how a great art collection came into being, with rich descriptions of the political, social, and cultural context of Vienna from the turn of the 20th century to 1938.”
— Victoria Newhouse
Praise from Australia for Good Living Street
“Arts aficionados will be mesmerized here by Bonyhady’s meticulous research of Vienna as an important centre of European arts modernism . . . Good Living Street is a captivating tour-de-force . . . Bonyhady deploys a genre of writing that impressively and poetically weaves together art, social and cultural histories and deeply reflexive investigative family biography with a mesmerizing, galloping narrative—it is at once a book that is arts educational and highly political and personal.”
—Jon Altman, Art Monthly Australia
Good Living Street is something of a mélange, although rich as an expensive cake tray . . . a rich tapestry of intriguing stories.”
—Chris Wallace-Crabbe, The Saturday Age

Library Journal
Art historian and environmental lawyer Bonyhady traces his Jewish family history through the lens of its Vienna address on Wohllebengasse (Good Living Street) and reconstructs his mother's Austrian childhood and escape from the Nazi-controlled country to Sydney, Australia. The Gallia family, prominent patrons of the arts, lived in the era of Klimt, Mahler, Hoffmann, and Schiele, whose art dominates the book's beginning but recedes as the family become refugees. Klimt's portrait of Bonyhady's great-grandmother, Hermine Gallia, and an incredible collection of Wiener Werkstätte left Vienna with the family and came to Australia. Official documents sometimes contradict his mother's memories, and she discarded diaries and correspondence, obscuring her true identity, to distance herself from a difficult past. Bonyhady questions her motivations along with his family's past materialism and their obliviousness to Nazi danger. This compelling, well-researched narrative delves into the problematic nature of personal history and things left behind: records destroyed, collections dispersed, identities hidden. VERDICT As much about identity, memory, and World War II as about art collecting, this will appeal to period historians as well as genealogists tracing their own histories.—Lindsay M. King, Yale Univ. Lib., New Haven, CT
Kirkus Reviews

Australian art historian Bonyhady (Words for Country: Landscape & Language in Australia, 2001, etc.) revisits the lives and collections of several generations of his family, members of whom had to flee the Nazis.

When the Nazis swooped into Vienna, the author's grandmother, grandaunt and mother escaped the country with "the best private collection of art and design to escape Nazi Austria." As a boy, the author saw some of this in Sydney and, later, was inspired to research and write the story of the women, only one of whom, his mother, remained alive. And she was reluctant to revisit her life. Bonyhady proceeds chronologically, relating the history of Jews in Vienna, the cultural ambiance of the city and the genesis of the fortune accumulated by his great-grandparents, a fortune enjoyed and increased until the worldwide depression and the Nazis fractured it. Members of his family were friends with Mahler, collected the works of Gustav Klimt, lived in spaces designed by Josef Hoffmann and experienced luxury and comfort unknown to most Viennese. Their neighborhood includedWohllebengasse, the street whose name in English translation forms Bonyhady's title. Although the author spends some space cataloging his family's possessions (and they were impressive), he confesses, too, that such wealth embarrasses him. The author was fortunate that these women were fairly fastidious about keeping diaries and letters and programs to the opera and such, and he mines them assiduously for material. He tells of love affairs (licit and otherwise) and marriages (successful and otherwise) and saves the real excitement for the women's escape from Europe in 1938, their resettlement in Australia, their adjustment to a more austere life and the sales of their possessions.

Political, economic and art history effectively combine with memoir to create a compelling story.

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt

“Most Viennese in 1900 came from somewhere else. Vienna became the third most populous European city after London and Paris.
“Moriz and Hermine Gallia were among the provincials who flocked there from across the Hapsburg Empire. Moriz came from southern Moravia; Hermine from southern Silesia. They were part of Vienna’s extraordinary transformation in fifty years from a city almost without Jews to the most Jewish city in western Europe.
“The Gallias had appeared in books and catalogs about art and design as patrons of Klimt and Hoffmann, but they were also in the literature about what made Vienna one of the intellectual and cultural centers of the early twentieth century. The Gallias were part of the argument about whether it was Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity who gave Vienna a cultural significance it had not achieved before or since.
“When I began this book, I had little idea of what was in my mother’s cupboards. It had not occurred to me that she might have correspondence linking the Gallias and the Mahlers. My stints in the library and with her papers began to illuminate the place of the Gallias in turn-of-the-century Vienna. For all I found, nothing equaled my mother’s cupboards, which contained much more than I realized. The abundance of the material was about how the Gallias lived in Vienna in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It took me deeper into the past than I ever thought possible. . . .”

From the Hardcover edition.

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