In 1897 a group of gifted young artists broke ties with the firmly established Kunstlerhaus which had for over thirty-five years been the official representative for Viennese artists and their work. Very conservative and dogmatic, the leaders of the Kunstlerhaus were strong adherents to the eclectic historicism that defined much of late nineteenth century Vienna.
The disenchanted group of young artists and architects included the architects Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich and the painters Josef Engelhart, Carl Moll, Koloman Moser, and Gustav Klimt who was elected their first president. Olbrich was selected by the group to begin developing ideas for a permanent building to house the Secession. Money was raised, and a site was found. It was furnished free of charge by the city with the provision that after ten years the building would become city property. Within six months Olbrich's "Temple To Art" was completed in the Karlsplatz, a stones throw away from the baroque Karlskirche.
It was certainly Olbrich's intent to convey a sense of hallowed space with the design of the controversial building. The exterior was full of symbolist meaning, from the huge gilt laurel sphere suspended between four plinths to the personification of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture rendered as three gorgons over the main entrance.The exhibition hall in contrast was an exercise in pure function, that is, to exhibit art to its fullest potential. To this end the natural light and movable partitons would break new ground in art museum architecture.
The House of Secession is Olbrich's only real remaining legacy in Vienna. As soon as the building was completed, Ernst Ludwig Grand Duke of Hesse, convinced Olbrich to come to Darmstadt, Germany and be his primary architect in the building of an artist's colony at Mathildenhohe. Olbrich died in 1908 in Dusseldorf, Germany.