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Posts tagged ‘Courtauld’

Radical and a little racy… Schiele’s nudes at the Courtauld

They’ve done it again! Short, sweet, brilliantly focused, the Courtauld Gallery in London has once again mounted a brilliant temporary exhibition with a sharp focus on a particular artist and theme. And following on from the gallery’s scintillating study of the single most important year in the development of Picasso’s career, this time the Courtauld is looking at the prolific work of an Austrian artist who sadly never lived out the full career his talent so obviously deserved: Egon Schiele. Instead, almost as though he had a premeditation of the Spanish flu that would kill him at the end of the First World War at the age of only 28, Schiele worked frantically, producing in the few short years of his career such a virtuosity of artwork that even after that short time he has been declared a pillar of Austria’s Expressionist art movement. 

Such was Schiele’s prolific output that the Courtauld had the luxury of being able to chose to focus in on one distinct element of his work: his depiction of the nude. And in doing so they have surely touched on perhaps the most memorable and striking chapter of his oeuvre. For in his depictions of the nude, Schiele was indeed very much the radical, just as the show suggests. Depicting his models with an angular and uncomfortable frame, and raw and visceral colouring, Schiele’s nudes are at once uncompromising and vulgar, while being completely fascinating and electric to the eye. 

Standing Nude with Stockings, 1914

Standing Nude with Stockings, 1914

Egon Schiele, Male Lower Torso, 1910

Egon Schiele, Male Lower Torso, 1910

Nude Self-Portrait in Gray with Open Mouth, 1910

Nude Self-Portrait in Gray with Open Mouth, 1910

Squatting Female Nude, 1910

Squatting Female Nude, 1910

Schiele wasn’t exactly one to keep with the confines of classical approaches to depicting the nude. Far from it. As well as colouring in his heavily lined nudes with a raw almost skinless muscular palate of dark bloody pinks and bruised purples and ambers, he also strayed very close to the pornographic frontier, depicting women in an unflinchingly abrupt and exposed fashion. I don’t think I ever saw so many views of what lies between a woman’s thighs on a gallery wall! And yet these paintings are not porn. They do not depict a promise of pleasure, but a deeply exposed portrait of the sitter. Yes these women look seductive and often slutty, but it’s as though Schiele is inviting us to read that as part of their story rather than to have an aroused response at what they are offering. 

And of course this exhibition is far from being about the naughty bits. For what these 30 or so paintings demonstrate is the brilliance and apparent confidence of Schiele’s line work as well as the originality of his depiction. These are bodies like we have never seen them before. Distorted, and occasionally out of proportion, bulging and contorting where they shouldn’t and often with sharp edges where supple skin should be, these are nudes taken up a level to an almost abstract exploration; poses which are almost impossible to hold; limbs seemingly amputated from the torso in order to focus the audience on a particular present part of the body; and expressions which are both exposing and intensely emotional: this is uncompromising portraiture. 

Seated Female Nude with Raised Arm (Gertrude Schiele), 1910

Seated Female Nude with Raised Arm (Gertrude Schiele), 1910

Crouching Woman with Green Kerchief, 1914

Crouching Woman with Green Kerchief, 1914

Two Girls Embracing (Friends), 1915

Two Girls Embracing (Friends), 1915

Erwin Dominik Osen, Nude with Crossed Arms,1910

Erwin Dominik Osen, Nude with Crossed Arms,1910

So is this small but perfectly formed show worth braving the growing queues for? It undoubtedly is. For this is an unprecedented chance to focus in on the bold feverish creative output of a quickly lost genius and almost certainly one of the most important shows of London’s artistic year. The only complaint you may have is that this sharp focus doesn’t go on longer. 

Egon Schiele: the Radical Nude runs until 18 January. But beware – the show contains some explicit images and may not be deemed suitable for all. 

London’s homage to print: Part 3 – Bruegel to Freud

Earlier this year I reviewed two London exhibitions which played homage to the brilliance and versatility of the printmaking medium, both through the chiaroscuro effects achieved in early renaissance woodcuts, or through the work of a Titan of contemporary British printmaking – David Hockney. Well no sooner had those shows shut up shop than another showcase to print has opened up, this time at my favourite gallery in London, the Courtauld. 

This new exhibition, From Bruegel to Freud is characteristic of the shows that the Courtauld does best: small yet focused, and although it displays only some 30 or so prints from a total collection of 24,000, the chosen prints perfectly illustrate the startling breadth and variety of the Courtauld’s impressive print holdings. And in giving itself over to a range of prints rather than honing in on one type or period, the exhibition ably demonstrates the potential of print both as an educator and communicator (for example Nicolas Beatrizet’s vast engraved copy of the Last Judgment wall of the Sistine Chapel, or the historical engravings of various architectural buildings such as the wonderfully detailed engraving of Rome’s Colosseum exhibited), as well as a wonderfully diverse medium for artistic expression in its own right. 

Engraving of the Colosseum

Engraving of the Colosseum

Nicolas Béatrizet, The Last Judgment

Nicolas Béatrizet, The Last Judgment

Starting with prints from the likes of Andrea Mantegna from the mid 1400s and ending with recent offerings from Chris Ofili, the show is chronologically broad. The early works are full of exquisite detail. I loved Agostino Veneziano’s The Academy of Baccio Bandinelli which, through engraving not only captures the brilliant detail of artists at work in a studio but also the drama of low candlelight with incredible shadows dancing and flickering on the wall behind. I also adored Hendrik Goltzius’s The Pieta, another engraving utilised to maximum effect – the lines and contours of Christ’s muscular body are stunning here. There was also great humour in Hogarth’s Before and After engravings, showing a man ravaged with passionate desires for a woman in one print, and the same man much dismissive once he has had his saucy way with her. 

Agostino Veneziano, The Academy of Baccio Bandinelli

Agostino Veneziano, The Academy of Baccio Bandinelli

Hendrick Goltzius, The Pieta

Hendrick Goltzius, The Pieta

William Hogarth, Before

William Hogarth, Before

William Hogarth, After

William Hogarth, After

But perhaps unsurprisingly for a museum whose finest collection is its impressionist and post impressionist works, my favourites were those emanating from the late 1800s when printmaking as a medium was having a new hayday, and innovations such as lithography were opening up printmaking to more artists. Amongst them was Toulouse-Lautrec whose lithograph of a jokey straddling a fast moving galloping horse was rightly displayed at the centre of the show, and Bonnard, whose whimsical and somewhat mysterious Woman with a Child and dog from the Nannies’ Promenade series was my favourite in show. 

Toulouse Lautrec, The Jockey (1899)

Toulouse Lautrec, The Jockey (1899)

Matisse, Seated Nude Woman with a tulle blouse

Matisse, Seated Nude Woman with a tulle blouse

Pierre Bonnard - The Nannies' Promenade (1897)

Pierre Bonnard – The Nannies’ Promenade (1897)

Gauguin, Auti te Pape

Gauguin, Auti te Pape

But of course I cannot end this brief canter through the Courtauld’s show without mentioning one of the last prints being exhibited – Blond Girl by Lucian Freud. For it was this very etching, and those others held in the Courtauld’s collection, that inspired me to start printing a little over a year ago. And for all of the etchings and woodcuts I have done since, I have Freud and the Courtauld to thank.

Lucian Freud - Blond Gird (detail)

Lucian Freud – Blond Girl (detail)

This brilliant homage to print is on at the Courtauld until 21 September 2014.