Therese Trethan was born in Vienna and grew up near fellow artist Jutta Sika. Trethan's father Ferdinand was an upholsterer, which may have influenced her decision to study decorative arts. In 1897, Trethan enrolled in the department of architecture at Vienna's Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts), which had only recently opened its curriculum to women. At the Kunstgewerbeschule, Trethan studied under Friedrich Linke, Koloman Moser, and Rudolf Ribarz. It was here that Trethan and Sika met, where both studied ceramics.
Trethan was a founding member of the applied arts group Wiener Kunst im Hause (Viennese Art in the Home), an artists' collaborative established by students of Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser from the Kunstgewerbeschule. For this group, Trethan exhibited both ceramics and textiles. At the same time, Trethan was also working with the porcelain manufacturer Josef Böck and for the glass firm E. Bakalowits & Söhne. Her designs, which were exhibited internationally, were widely acclaimed and frequently received awards, including a bronze medal from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase International Exposition in St. Louis.
Apart from her work as a decorative painter with the Wiener Werkstätte from 1905 to 1910, Trethan began to devote time to easel painting, as well as trying her hand at fashion design. In addition, she taught courses in drawing and theatrical costume design at various vocational schools in Vienna.
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