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Posts tagged ‘Schiele’

Onwards to Vienna, Part 3: Palaces of Art

To say that there is a lot of art in Vienna is like saying there are a lot of paellas in Spain. The city literally lives, breathes and exudes art from its every corner and facet. Everywhere you go, large posters advertise the latest sensational exhibition appearing at the Leopold, or the Albertina, while inside the Belvedere and the Kunsthistoriches museums, some of the most famous paintings ever known to the history of art happily reside. We were literally astonished by the wealth of art contained within a small central core of the city, and by the end of our trip were rendered utterly exhausted by the amount of art we saw. But we were all the more fulfilled as a result.

If I were to reproduce a photo of all the paintings we saw in permanent collections and temporary shows alike, the single blog post resulting would probably keep you scrolling downwards for a lifetime. Rather than do that therefore, I wanted to focus a little on the majestic buildings which host Vienna’s amassed artistic treasures, before showing you just a few of the works on show within them.

Almost unable to take in the breadth of art at the Kunsthistoriches Museum

Almost unable to take in the breadth of art at the Kunsthistoriches Museum

There was no missing the incredible grandeur of the building hosting the Kunsthistoriches Museum (The History of Art Museum), which sits opposite its domed twin – a duo of palaces built some 150 or so years ago upon the advent of the Ringstrasse. With an art collection mainly built up over successive generations of Hapsburg rule, and containing breathtaking masterpieces by the likes of Titian, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Velazquez, it is no wonder that the museum is visited by more than 1.5 million people every year. But beyond the art on the walls, what is truly momentous is the building itself which, tailor-created especially to hold the very collection which graces the building today, is filled with every kind of creative lavishness, from murals to sculptures, friezes and reliefs, and chief amongst them all, some beautiful wall murals by Gustav Klimt himself.

Klimt murals in the main hallway of the Kunsthistoriches Museum

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Klimt was of course to take centre stage across Vienna’s artistic offerings, not only in the galleries but in every manifestation of souvenir and guidebook. At the core of the city’s multifaceted Klimt showcase, his famous painting The Kiss lords over all the rest, glimmering with its multi-layered gold leaf in a long gallery on one side of the Upper Belvedere gallery. This equally spectacular palace is just one half of an iconic centre of art which offers exhibitions in both the Upper and Lower galleries and whose buildings are laced with all of the elaborate pomp intended by the original owner, Prince Eugene of Savoy, to evoke the magnificent of his various 17th century military successes.

The beautiful Belvedere

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But back to the 20th century, and my favourite of all the Klimt spectacles is the Secession building, a glimmering gold spectacle of modernism constructed in the Jugendstil style as a showcase for the Secession movement’s artists, chief amongst whom was of course Klimt himself. And today, the star attraction is Klimt’s allegorical Beethoven Frieze, one of the most iconic of the artist’s works.

The Secession Building and Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

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In all, during 4 days in the city of Vienna, we visited some 8 galleries, an equal number of permanent exhibitions and an additional 12 temporary exhibitions. The vast wealth of art on offer was simply mind blowing, from the ancient treasures of the Kunsthistoriches museum and the delicate 19th century works of the Belvedere, to the in depth studies of Klimt and Schiele in the Leopold museum, and the incredible collection of impressionist art in the Albertina. Below are just a few photos of the many artistic treasures we saw. Far too many to take in, but we made and enjoyed our every attempt.

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.