Even when I know that this picture is coming, when it is rounding the bend, I still can’t see it for the portrait it is supposed to be. The lithograph is by Berthold Loeffler (1874-1960), a prolific Viennese designer, artist and professor at Kunstgewerbeschule (1907-1935) whose prodigious commercial
output covered about every other letter of the artistic alphabet. This work is a portrait of his mostly-forgotten fellow-Viennese writer, Peter Altenberg1 for the Kabaerett Fledermaus of 1909. The portrait is all squares and one big button to me, and I have to consciously look for the rest of the picture in spite of knowing that the stuff is there.
It is an unusual picture of emergent art—for me not quite like, for example, the cover of the pamphlet Cinema by J. Epstein, where the letters are a jumble for just a moment and then snap into view. The Loeffler portrait is much more densely hidden in a much more straightforward manner, and fools my mind every time.
1.Altenberg is probably a product of his time, or a time of his product. Described as the bohemian’s bohemian, he lived an outre lifestyle in little cafes and bars, wearing capes and broad-brimmed hats, and was evidently something of an effeminate womanizer with a very deep interest in very young girls. There you go. Altenberg stood quite high in that world, as Alban Berg put some of his postcard-poetry to music in his Five songs on picture postcard texts by Peter Altenberg, which caused a near-riot in its premier, abruptly stopping the performance which would not see the light of day again for another 40 years.