Two fellow alpine painters, active mountaineers and skiers themselves, took the Austrian railway poster to the 20th century. Previously, posters were packed with small pictures or pompous personifications of towns and regions. Following the Frenchman Hugo d'Alesi, Gustav Jahn and Otto Barth created posters with contemporary landscape painting.
By commissioning these painters, the Austrian railways chose the landscape rather than the means of transport as a main motive. The posters attracted domestic and foreign tourists to the newly opened Alpenbahnen, but also had a unifying and educational role: they made passers-by at the Viennese stations familiar with all corners of the Austria of that time.
by Arjan den Boer
Gustav Jahn was born in Vienna in 1879. At the age of 16 he was accepted at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. From 1900 onwards he took lessons from the genre painter Franz Rumpler. Jahn specialized in mountain landscapes and alpine scenery. Already during his studies he illustrated the sales catalogs of the famous Viennese mountain sports house of Mizzi Langer. His work was published as magazine illustrations, postcards, educational pictures and advertising posters.
Jahn's main passion was mountaineering. In 1901 he became a member of the Austrian Alpine Club. He has a number of first ascents of steep mountainsides on his record. Jahn was also a prize-winning cross-country skier and ski jumper.
Born in Vienna in 1876, Otto Barth was weak and ill in his youth. Intensive treatments in the mountains supposedly cured him and at the same time instilled his love for mountaineering. He attended an art school and then the Vienna Art Academy, where he met Gustav Jahn. They undertook many ascents together.
Contemporaries described the fellow painters as very different: Jahn as an impulsive man of nature and Barth having a dark side, worrying about his painting technique. Consequently, Barth's work has a slight melancholy that Jahn was lacking. In addition to paintings Barth created book illustrations, posters, murals and mosaics, e.g. in the Salzburg railway station.
The oldest poster by Gustav Jahn dates from 1904 and has the iconic Südbahn Hotel as its subject. The Südbahn (Southern Railway) was opened in 1859 as a connection between Vienna and the then Austrian port of Trieste. The most spectacular part was the Semmering Railway. The private Südbahngesellschaft would not be nationalized until 1923.
The luxury Südbahn Hotel in Semmering was opened in 1882 to stimulate tourism. In 1903 it was extended in chalet style. For the hotel's hall, Gustav Jahn created a series of paintings with Alpine scenes, including one of the Königspitze. This was probably the opportunity to commission Jahn to design a poster as well.
Jahn also created paintings for the Vienna Südbahnhof station concourse, not only depicting Semmering but also Ragusa (Dubrovnik), then part of the Austrian crown land of Dalmatia. The Dalmatian coast was accessible from Trieste, terminus of the Südbahn.
In 1907 Jahn designed a Ragusa poster, but not for the Südbahn. The Austrian State Railways had meanwhile created its own connection to Trieste via the Neue Alpenbahnen, the reason for commissioning a series of posters.
In 1907 Jahn designed several railway posters, including one of the Wachau, the Danube Valley in Lower Austria. It promoted a tourist combo ticket: from Vienna to Melk on the Westbahn, then to Krems by steamer and back to Vienna on the Franz-Josefs-Bahn.
It was one of the first posters with a fixed layout: a large main subject — in this case the medieval fortress of Dürnstein — and below two small images separated by a route map.
Gustav Jahn could show his love for high mountains better in a poster for the Gesäuse in the Ennstal Alps of Styria. This area was opened up by the Rudolfsbahn since 1873. The poster shows the 2,117 meter high Planspitze at twilight with the entrance of the Gesäuse railway tunnel in front.
Jahn knew the Gesäuse very well and regularly made ascents there himself, the last time in 1919 with fatal consequences.
The famous mountain range of the Hohe Tauern was, in connection to the Westbahn from Vienna, accessible via the Salzburg-Tiroler-Bahn since 1875. This railway links Salzburg to Wörgl in Tyrol.
As to be expected, Gustav Jahn chose the Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria, as the main subject of his Hohe Tauern poster. At the foot of this 3,798 meter high mountain the Pasterze glacier stretches out.
A related poster features Zell am See, at the time an emerging winter sports resort. With regard to foreign tourists the small route map shows international connections as far as London. The posters appeared in German, French and English.
Although Jahn contributed a lot to the modernization of Austrian poster art, his style was still more picturesque than graphic (as posters would become in the interwar period). In fact Jahn based his lithographs on paintings. Just like real paintings the posters were given a 'frame'. The Hohe Tauern poster has a floral framework of Edelweiss, as the Südbahn hotel was framed by blue gentians. The Zell am See poster has a more abstract decorative frame.
From 1884 onwards, the Arlberg Railway with its excellent westwards connections opened up the Arlberg area for international winter sports tourism. Originating in the late 19th century in Swiss Sankt-Moritz as a way to attract foreign tourists during winter as well, Austria picked up on this trend from 1900 onwards — partly thanks to the posters by Gustav Jahn.
As early as 1894 the first ski race took place in Kitzbühel. In Sankt Anton, at the foot of the Arlberg Pass, the Ski-Club Arlberg was founded in 1901. From 1907 onwards Sankt Anton-based ski instructor Hannes Schneider developed the Arlberg technique, the basis of modern skiing. That winter tourism was still an upper-class activity, is evidenced by the number of 328 hotel beds in Sankt Anton in 1910.
Around 1910 Jahn's friend and colleague Otto Barth also started desiging posters for the State Railways. His Salzkammergut winter sports posters shows the ski-jump of Mitterndorf, which was accessible by rail via the Salzkammergutbahn.
While Jahn was using Art Nouveau inspired floral frames, Barth framed his posters with strict geometric borders following the example of the Wiener Werkstätte.
The 82 km long Tauern Railway, completed in 1909, was the final piece of the Neue Alpenbahnen, a new north-south link between Vienna and Trieste.
Gustav Jahn's poster shows the Angertalbrücke, one of the numerous bridges, viaducts and tunnels of the Tauernbahn. Jahn only rarely depicted trains or railway lines, and even here they are subordinate to the landscape.
From 1911 onwards a direct train connected Paris with Trieste via Munich and the Tauernbahn. The Tauern Express ran three times a week with 1st and 2nd class day coaches and sleeping cars. In 1912 the Tauern Express, combined with a regular express train in Austria, started running every day.
The attractive poster by Otto Barth shows a panoramic view of Paris at the top and the Dösenbach viaduct at Mallnitz in the center. Below, the port city of Trieste and the Egyptian pyramids are depicted on either side of the route map. At Trieste the Tauern Express offered connections to steamers of the Austrian Lloyd to Egypt. A French version of the poster was released with the text Train Direct Paris-Triest.
The Neue Alpenbahnen, constructed from 1901 onwards by the Austrian State Railways as a new north-south link, not only included the Tauernbahn but also the connecting Karawanken and Wocheiner Railways.
The Karawankenbahn to Villach and Klagenfurt was opened in 1906. The Wocheiner Bahn, completed shortly thereafter, ran from Aßling (present-day Jesenice in Slovenia) to Görz (now Gorizia in Italy). The railway line from Görz to Trieste already existed.
The typographically modern 1908 poster by Otto Barth for the Wocheiner Bahn features the Val Canale (Kanaltal). This valley then still belonged to Carinthia, while today it is part of the Italian province of Udine.
In 1911 Otto Barth also designed a poster for the Karawankenbahn. Besides small images of Klagenfurt and Villach it shows a large view of the Bodental in Southern Carinthia.
The picture of the Bodental has a composition and cropping clearly influenced by photography, which also applies to the almost photographic image on the Wocheiner Bahn poster.
The posters that Jahn and Barth designed for the k.k. Staatsbahnen covered the whole of former Austria — from Dalmatia and Krain (Slovenia) in the south to Bohemia (Czech Republic) in the north.
The Sudetenland, located between Bohemia and Germany with a majority of German speakers, was advertised by Otto Barth in 1910. The main motif was the top of the Altvatergebirge (Praděd) with the then brand-new stone watchtower. The cropping of the image is striking and indebted to photography, like Barth's other posters. The checkered border and lettering are also notable. The designer, however, stuck to the usual grid of thumbnails and small map at the bottom.
While 'Sudeten' was probably Otto Barth's most modern poster, 'Böhmen' was perhaps Gustav Jahn's most traditional one. With the city of Prague as a backdrop, the equestrian statue of King Wenceslas the Saint serves as a personification of Bohemia.
Below are pictures of the Karlstein castle near Prague and one of the thermal springs of Karlsbad.
Apart from the Südbahn and the k.k. Staatsbahnen, Gustav Jahn designed posters for a number of small regional railway companies.
In 1894 the Murtalbahn was opened between Unzmarkt in Styria and Mauterndorf in Salzburg. On some parts of this narrow gauge railway (760 mm) speed is limited to only 30 km/h. Nowadays the Murtalbahn is periodically operating steam locomotives besides regular modern trains.
Murau is the main tourist destination on the Murtalbahn. Around 1910 it positioned itself as a winter resort for skiing and bobsleighing. Jahn depicted both sports on his poster.
The Niederösterreichisch-Steirische Alpenbahn, better known as the Mariazellerbahn, connects Sankt Pölten to the pilgrimage center of Mariazell. Construction of this narrow gauge railway started in 1898. In 1911 electrification with 1-phase alternating current was completed, at that time very modern.
Remarkably, on his poster Gustav Jahn did not depict the correct type of electric locomotive, which would remain in service for one hundred years.
The last railway poster created by Gustav Jahn dates from 1912. In that year the Mittenwaldbahn from Innsbruck to Garmisch-Partenkirchen in German Bavaria was inaugurated. It was one of the first electric standard-gauge railways, constructed as a private regional initiative, but operated jointly by the Austrian and Bavarian State Railways.
On the poster Jahn featured the entrance of the railway tunnel through the steep Martinswand northwest of Innsbruck. The route map below also shows the adjoining cross-border Außerfernbahn from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Reutte in Tyrol.
Gustav Jahn and Otto Barth both died at a young age in the years around World War I, but not as a result of it.
During the war, because of his knowledge of mountains, Jahn was an instruction officer at the Alpine military school in the Dolomites.
Otto Barth, a lieutenant in an administrative position since the beginning of the war, died in 1916 in the Vienna Military Hospital from a brain disease at the age of 39.
Gustav Jahn died in 1919 while practicing his passion. He fell from a height of 500 meters while ascending the Ödsteinkante in the Gesäuse.
In the Rax mountain range in Lower Austria, the 'Malersteig' (painter's ascent) still reminds of the two painters who ascended it for the first time together in 1901.
Austrian railway posters by Gustav Jahn and Otto Barth
Bernhard Denscher, Aus dem Bilderbuch der Monarchie. Österreichische Eisenbahnplakate um 1900, in: Wilkommen in Österreich, Eine sommerliche Reise in Bildern, 2012
Wilhelm Tausche, Werbeplakate für die Österreichischen Alpenbahnen, in: Reisen und leben Heft 22, 1991
Werner Telesko, Visualisierungsstrategien im Tourismus in der Spätphase der Habsburgermonarchie, in: Zwischen Exotik und Vertrautem: Zum Tourismus in der Habsburgermonarchie und ihren Nachfolgestaaten, 2014