Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wild Times in Vienna

"Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit"
"For every age its art; for art its freedom"

The Three Gorgons representing painting, architecture and sculpture.
Secession Building, Vienna.
If you’re a fan of the art of Gustav Klimt, or his younger contemporary and protégé Egon Schiele, then Vienna is the place for you. 

The Leopold Museum in Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier is a trove of major Schiele works, plus much more (fascinatingly, it became the property of the Austrian state as a write-off for a tax bill). 

The Leopold Museum, Vienna
Schiele was a wild young man, and his paintings show it. At one point he was imprisoned for immorality. Wikipedia:
When they came to his studio to place him under arrest, the police seized more than a hundred drawings which they considered pornographic. Schiele was imprisoned while awaiting his trial. When his case was brought before a judge, the charges of seduction and abduction were dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children. In court, the judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle flame. The twenty-one days he had already spent in custody were taken into account, and he was sentenced to only three days' imprisonment.
by Egon Schiele (source)
Sciele’s paintings and drawings are certainly confronting, and rather tortured. He was an early Expressionist, clawing his way out of the traditional milieu, and pouring into his paintings all the pent-up sexual angst of a very young man. In his day, many found the explicitness of his work disturbing, and possibly many still do -- it’s not only the subjects, but the intensity. The lines of a Schiele work are reminiscent of the writhings in Van Gogh, and are moving, expressive and disturbing. 

He was born in 1890, and thus his twenties were shaped by the hideousness of the First World War. In 1918, only 28 years old, he died in the Spanish flu pandemic, along with his pregnant wife (the flu pandemic claimed more lives in Austria than WWI). View more about Schiele and his paintings here..

Decorativeness at the Secession Building, Vienna.
When Schiele was a young artist, Gustav Klimt (1862 - 1918) ruled the art world in Vienna. He mentored the young Schiele for a time, and introduced him to workshops connected with the Secession -- a Viennese artistic movement which ‘seceded’ from the art establishment and showed (and still shows) bold new contemporary works. It’s always inspiring to hear about young and innovative artists (not that Klimt was so young) breaking away to establish their own new spaces and places, but in the case of the Viennese Secession, it’s hard to avoid a suspicion that there was some serious money behind them. Bohemian they may have been, but they could raise the wherewithal to build a fantastic new HQ: the boldly art nouveau Secession Building, still a venue for new art in Vienna. 

The Vienna Secession Building with its distinctive golden dome.
Gustav Klimt, generally described as a symbolist painter, was a founder of the Vienna Secession, and Otto Wagner, the architect, a member. The famous Secession Building, now an icon of the movement, was built in 1897 by Joseph Maria Olbrich - the style is known as ‘Jungendstil’ (Viennese Art Nouveau). As well as changing exhibits of contemporary art, the building permanently houses Klimt’s ‘Beethovenfries’ (“Beethoven Frieze’). At first glance, you might wonder quite what the frieze - a partial-looking and spasmodic art work - has to do with Beethoven. It was designed as a temporary decoration for the Secession’s 14th exhibition in 1902, a pean to Beethoven. Part of its now blank space was occupied by a statue of Beethoven - nude, in heroic style - by Max Klinger (currently housed in Liepzig). The frieze purports to suggest the themes of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, culminating in an ‘Ode to Joy’, and in fact Gustav Mahler conducted his own orchestration of the fourth movement of the 9th for the opening of the exhibition. 

Detail from Klimt's 'Beethoven Frieze'.
These nude maidens stand between Three gorgons (Sickness, Madness and Death)
and a large ape that looks a bit like King kong.
Detail from Klimt's 'Beethoven Frieze.
A Parsifal-like knight goes forth to save the world,
watched by Ambition and Compassion.
Klimt everywhere.
The Leopold Museum also houses some Klimt art works, and reproductions can be found all over Vienna, rendered in greater or lesser taste. But for the Klimt motherlode, head to the Belvedere Palace (the Upper Palace), now a fabulous art museum. There, amongst other iconic Klimts (and much else) is hung ‘The Kiss’ (1907/8), possibly the best known of all - from his ‘golden period’, when he used gold leaf in his paintings.

And here’s a curious point: despite the rectangular dimensions of almost all of the reproductions around town of this exquisitely-rendered work, the original is in fact square. Wiki gets it right. 

Klimt died in 1918, the same year as Schiele, from illness complications arising from the Spanish flu. He was no stranger to controversy either, also facing allegations of pornography, especially over his commissioned decorations for the great hall of the University of Vienna - following an outcry, all three paintings were never displayed on the university ceiling and were destroyed by retreating SS officers in 1945. Wiki gives details of his life, plus an overview of his works. 

View Klimt’s works (24 of them) housed at The Belvedere Palace here.

The Belvedere Palace, Vienna
View from the Upper Belvedere.
Klimt's 'The Kiss' (1907-08) (source)
The Belvedere also boasts some excellent Schiele works, including ‘Death and the Maiden’ (1915) painted after his first long-term lover left him (because he married someone else).

'Death and the Maiden' (source)
These two artists and their contemporaries were nothing if not adventurous. It seems apt to quote the words of Schiller which Klimt painted across his ‘Nuda Veritas’ in 1899:
"If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please only a few. To please many is bad."
The dome has been dubbed 'the golden cabbage'.

No comments:

Post a Comment