Sunday, 13 October 2013

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 - The National Gallery

Isidore Kaufmann, Young Rabbi, c1910
Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 is at The National Gallery until 12 January 2014.  
Turn of the century Vienna was an extraordinary place: the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was a cosmopolitan centre notable for the richness of its Jewish culture (to be all but wiped out by the rise of Nazism in the 1930s), avant-garde experiments in art, architecture and music, and the invention of psychoanalysis. It was the city of Sigmund Freud, painters Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, architect Adolf Loos, composer Arnold Schönberg, critic Karl Krauss amongst others.
This exhibition purports to explore the evolution of modern identity and individualism through the portraits painted in that city. Reviews suggest that the story it tells lacks some clarity and focus but that it includes  some very remarkable drawings and paintings. Laura Cumming, for example draws attention to Klimt's portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl - he died of a stroke before finishing it - and, 
most poignant of all is Schiele's sketch of his young wife (see below), six months pregnant, dying of Spanish flu in October 1918. The pencil carries the febrile trace of death inch by inch across her beautiful face; as the pulse slows, the features sink and the eyes lose their brilliant vitality. The terrible swiftness of this contagion is apparent from the few strands of loose hair caught on her moist brow: the rest is still just as she must have pinned it up so neatly only hours before. Schiele himself would be dead in three days.
Read reviews by Laura Cumming, Adrian Searle, RichardDorment and Brian Sewell; listen to a discussion about the exhibition on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review (12.10.13)
Egon Schiele, Portrait of Albert Paris von Gütersloh, 1918
Richard Gerstl, Nude Self Portrait with Palette, 1908
Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, 1917-18
Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of Hans and Erica Tietze-Conrat, 1909
Egon Schiele, Self Portrait with Raised Bare Shoulder, 1912
Egon Schiele, The Family (Self Portrait), 1918
Egon Schiele, portrait sketch of his wife, 1918

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