|Detail from 'Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl', 1917-18 |
by Gustav Klimt
© Belvedere, Vienna
Donated by Vita and Gustav Künstler
The exhibition is about the development of portraiture at the turn of the century (1900) in Vienna. This was a time when the multiculturalism which had become dominant in Vienna was helping to redefine portrait painting and what styles could be employed when creating a portrait - or a self-portrait.
You can see some of the works on display on the website. The exhibition includes paintings that don't move very often from their homes in the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna or other public and private collections and there have been some generous loans. Plus it also includes the death masks of Beethoven, Mahler, Klimt and Schiele!
Below I've given an overview of the exhibition - plus included links to the Belvedere website and others which provide resources related to the art in this exhibition.
Who should visit this exhibition
I highly recommend this exhibition to:
- portrait artists of every persuasion - from those who prefer very detailed realistic rendering to those who pursue expressionism.
- those interested in European art history. It includes three very important artists associated with the Vienna Secessionism movement - Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and early expressionism Egon Schiele (1890-1918) and Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980). Links in the names are to WikiPaintings where you can see a lot more of their art.
I liked it - and explain why below.
The rooms within the Exhibition are as follows
Room 1: The Old Viennese - paintings of the ancestors. A fictional family for the new Viennese who poured into Vienna from across the Austro-Hungarian empire. These portraits are typically exceptionally skilled and rendered in great detail. There's an exceptionally fine tiny painting by Klimt which I absolutely loved.
|The view as you enter Room 1: The Old Viennese|
Room 3: The Appeal of the Artist. Paintings of the artist - many self-portraits. Demonstrating the notion that the self-portrait was a way of declaring prowess in terms of technical skills and artistic allegiances - of marketing one's art within a very competitive environment. Also the self-portrait was a way of experimenting with the very nature of portraiture.
Some of the paintings are very powerful - such as the small self-portrait by Schiele (see below). The more I looked at it the more I was persuaded that this painting was created by first painting in oil and then rubbing off and removing paint - there's a clear thumb print in one bit of the painting. Whatever his technique it's highly effective. This probably the smallest painting in the room and yet it leaps off the wall and demands attention.
|Self Portrait with raised bare shoulder 1912 |
by Egon Schiele - painted age 22
oil on wood, 42.2 x 33.9
© Leopold Museum Private Foundation, Vienna
|Room 4: The New Viennese (one of the portrait gallery corridors)|
|Room 5: Love and Loss - drawings of people who are dying and dead|
In the foreground are the death masks of Mahler, Klimt, Schiele and Loos
Room 5: Love and Loss. Rather a sad room as everybody in it is either already dead or in the process of dying. It tackles the topic of making a picture of somebody after their death. It also highlights the impact of the influenza pandemic and the exceptionally high suicide rate among the assimilated Jewish youth which led to a symposium, chaired by Sigmund Freud, to try and understand the reasons for this.
There's a very sad story about the commission Klimt accepted to paint a portrait of Ria Munk III following her death (she shot herself in the heart following a failed love affair). The one below is unfinished but was accepted by the parents who had rejected two earlier versions. I found it a great way to understand how Klimt painted his paintings
|Posthumous portrait of Ria Munk III 1917-18|
by Gustav Klimt
oil on canvas, 180.7 x 89.9cm
© Property of The Lewis Collection
|Room 6: Finish and Failure|
Kokoshka by way of contrast obviously felt his way around a portrait using thinned oil paint and a brush
You can read the story of the painting which dominates the room on the Belvedere website - see Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl (if you use Chrome and the instant translate facility). It's believed that she died in Theresienstadt, one of the concentration camps in WW2.
Why visit this exhibition
Here's some reasons to visit this exhibition.
First, it takes an unusual approach and displays two quite different kinds of art alongside one another - from either side of the divide that was and is 1900.
The Historicism approach of the nineteenth century is shown alongside paintings of early expressionism as seen in Vienna. These are links to the relevant artists and styles of painting around about 1900 on the Belvedere website
I found the contrast in portrait styles to be stimulating. For me, it highlighted more clearly the similarities and the differences. I found myself studying the different techniques employed to create different effects.
While for the most part it contrasts the work of different artists, it also highlights the contrasts to be found within the portfolio of an artist - witness the portraits by Klimt below painted 10 years apart.
|Changes in the portraiture of Gustav Klimt|
Left: Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904
oil on canvas, 170.5 x 96.5 cm, National Gallery
Right: Portrait of a lady in black c.1894
oil on canvas, 155 x 75cm, Belvedere - loan from a private collection
It's an exhibition which also reflects a country and a city in flux. In effect, the exhibition is a portrait of a city. That city is Vienna - the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire which is coming to an end. It's an empire of many nations and many different cultures. As the capital of a new empire Vienna grew tremendously during the nineteenth century. By 1910 it was a city of 2 million people and the 4th largest in the world - and the tensions associated with that multiculturalism were showing. It was a city where strong anti-Semitic feelings were expressed about Jewish people - and their portraits - on a regular basis.
It struck me that there were quite a lot of similarities between Vienna and London now - and I thought it a pity that there weren't more events which addressed issues of multi-culturalism and its impact on assimilation and integration - and portraiture
There are lots of endings in the exhibition - and new beginnings. The exhibition effectively ends in 1918 - a year in which:
- a century ended
- The first World War - the war to end all wars - came to an end. The Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed as a result
- Klimt died on 6 February 1918 of a stroke followd by pneumonia
- Schiele died on 31 October 1918, three days after his wife. Both he and his wife were victims of the Spanish Influenza pandemic
I came away liking Klimt even more than I did already - and I need to study him some more. Watch this space as they say!
The catalogue has a number of useful essays about the themes and sub-themes of the exhibition
Events associated with the Exhibition
You can find details of all the events associated with the exhibition on the website. A number of them are free but you do need to book in advance.
There's a lunchtime talk by the curator on Tuesday 22 October, 1–1.45pm in the Sainsbury Wing Theatre
CreditsThis exhibition is:
- curated by Dr Gemma Blackshaw, Associate Professor History of Art and Visual Culture at Plymouth and guest curator at the National Gallery
- organised by the National Gallery, London
- sponsored by Credit Suisse as part of its partnership with the National Gallery since 2008. It's worth noting that Credit Suisse are also the people who sponsor the late night opening of the National Gallery
- The events programme for 'Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900' is kindly supported by Martin Halusa
- National Gallery on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/thenationalgallery
- Belvedere on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/belvederewien