New Exhibition On My Must-Go List

A new exhibition has just opened at the National Gallery, London, which must be a must (you know what I mean!) despite its being portraits (and you know what I think of portraits!) Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 is on until January and the Management has suggested we might go down to London on the first Thursday of December to check out First Thursdays so it could be on! As it includes work by Egon Schiele, I expect Rosie Scribblah will also be making the trek from Swansea. In honour of the exhibition, I’ve used one of Schiele’s paintings, which is being shown, in today’s Art Quote of the Day.


 I only learnt of the exhibition when I read an article by Martin Gayford in the Daily Torygraph. Here are some extracts to whet your appetite:

“”One day,” wrote Alma   Mahler, “Kokoschka suddenly got up, picked up the pictures of Mahler one by one and kissed Mahler’s face. It was an act of ‘white magic’ – he wanted to curb the dark jealous urges within him. But I can’t say it helped.” This bizarre incident occurred in 1913, at which point the great composer and conductor Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) had been dead for two years; and the painter Oskar Kokoschka was in the closing stages of a fraught, passionate and doomed affair with his widow. Evidently, the young artist felt fierce rivalry with the dead man…

“Kokoschka (1886-1980) was one of the leading figures in the brief flowering of modernism that is summoned up by the shorthand phrase “Vienna 1900”. In fact, of course it lasted for more than just a year. The exhibition traces its origins back into the 1860s, and continues up until 1918 – at which point Viennese modernism did indeed come to a halt. …

“Alma Mahler was formidable as well as beautiful. Few people have had such a succession of culturally celebrated lovers. The daughter of a painter, Emil Schindler, Alma had a flirtation with Klimt while she was still in her teens – wisely unconsummated as the painter suffered from syphilis – followed by marriage to Mahler, during which she had an affair with the architect Walter Gropius, to whom she returned after her fling with Kokoschka, before leaving him in turn for the novelist Franz Werfel. Her amorous career provides something of a guide to the culture of Vienna at the turn of the century.

“It may not have been Alma Mahler’s intention that we remember her for her sex life, but Egon Schiele surely intended it for his. In his brief career he frequently portrayed himself naked, embracing naked female models, masturbating, as well as agonised and alone as an outcast and martyr.

“A precocious artistic wunderkind, Schiele had been admitted to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts at 16. In May 1911, still only 20 but by then an independent avant-garde painter, he moved to the little town of Krumau, now Cesky Krumlov, in the Czech Republic. He brought with him his mistress, Valerie Neuzil, or Wally, who – the painter’s friend Anton Peschka recalled  – “satisfied his erotic desires completely”. She is recognisable as the   red-haired model in many of the artist’s images of that period, some verging on pornographic. “Even the erotic work of art has sanctity,” he declared. Unfortunately, the neighbours took exception to Schiele drawing one of his models nude in his garden, and after three months he had to leave Krumau. …

“The Austrian reaction to avant-garde art could certainly be drastic. After seeing an exhibition of Kokoschka’s work, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Emperor Franz Joseph, declared “this fellow’s bones ought to be broken in his body”. Three years later, Franz Ferdinand himself was shot in Sarajevo, thus triggering the First World War. …

“From being the capital of a multicultural and multilingual empire of 11 different national groups – the sort of environment that could give birth to the fervent artistic creativity of 1900 – Vienna became the capital of a small Alpine country. Two decades later, the Nazi takeover delivered the coup de grâce to the brilliant, cosmopolitan society that had briefly blazed. At least one of Klimt’s sitters, Amalie Zuckerkandl – subject of the shimmering, unfinished picture that will be among the most spectacular exhibits at the National Gallery – ended her life murdered in an extermination camp. …

“On November 4 1908, a 25-year-old painter named Richard Gerstl committed suicide by stabbing and – to ensure success – also hanging himself. He died in the aftermath of an intense affair with Mathilde, wife of the composer Arnold Schönberg. Gerstl was a close friend of Schönberg’s, indeed he had been helping the musician to become a painter (some of Schoenberg’s pictures will be in the exhibition).

“Shortly before he died Gerstl painted a full-length, life-size self-portrait in which he stands, totally naked with palette in hand, his body pale and gangling, his sexual organs painted in darker hue. It is hard to think of a more extraordinary example of self-examination – and revelation. By a coincidence, but a poignant one, Gerstl’s studio on Liechtensteinstrasse overlooked Berggasse, where Freud famously had his apartment and consulting room on the second floor of No 19.”


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I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website
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2 Responses to New Exhibition On My Must-Go List

  1. You betcha I’ll be making a pilgrimage! There’s also an exhibition of Japanese blockprints at the British Museum to check out.

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