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Robynne Limoges/London Comments- The 3 Nines Arts

Klimt’s ‘Judith and the Head of Holofernes’, 1901

The Royal Academy of Arts, London, and the Albertina Museum in Vienna have collaborated to present an extraordinary double exhibition of almost 100 rare drawings by Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele side-by-side to mark the centenary of both artists' deaths.

The correlations and differences between these two artists are as striking as the changes that were occurring in Vienna society, culture and aesthetics. Both were members of the Vienna Secession and consciously, overtly broke from the aesthetic and formal constraints of then dominant and establishment-supported Association of Austrian Artists. Other Secessionists included Oskar Kokoschka, Charles Rennie Macintosh, Max Klinger, Arnold Bocklin and Malva Schalek, to name a few.

Showing these two artists together is a natural curatorial decision, as Schiele was a protege of Klimt. While both concentrated on the body and while both are known for their direct eroticism, the majority of Klimt's most famous works firmly reside on this side of elegance, with his use of gold leaf, decorative art nouveau line, perhaps an underlying sense of romanticism.

Contrastingly, Schiele's body of work demonstrates a rawness that is visceral. I think his work was very much informed by his family history. His female figures are often posed in awkward revelation of genitalia, which border on, and irrefutably, cross over into pornography. He was not unaware of this and, after his uncle refused to further fund him, Schiele found a ready and enthusiastic paying audience for his most overtly pornographic work.

In Schiele's paintings of the figure, line is powerfully ragged, jaggedly sporadic, the density often seems to be an attack on the surface, and nearly always, if included, the hands are contorted into very separate psychological danse macabre, so out of proportion and contorted that they often fight for dominance with limbs and heads, with drapery and genitalia. That conscious disproportion seems to me to be a major theme. A disconnection between the world of emotions over which he could not control, and his ability to shape a reality directly from his emotional obsessions. His treatment of the figure sits comfortably amidst the outside male-dominated world of overtly offered flesh for sale, whether metaphorically or in actual fact. His beloved father succumbed to insanity and an early death from syphilis. Only 28 at the time of his death, he remained obsessed with sexuality and its emotional labyrinth all his life. 

Yet in his most simple drawings, on brown paper, without embellishment, the line, though never quite tender, is masterfully laid down, in the most economical yet emotionally laden manner. 

Schiele's use of colour is magnificent, his drapery a study of the glory of abstraction, his obsession with detail contrast in a fascinating way against the smudged, generalised contortions of the human form.

Both the flatly decorative, material-rich Klimt and the visual obsessiveness of Schiele have found their way back into dominance. Painters and print makers, photographers have returned to gold leaf as a material and photographers in large numbers have sought to 'reveal' something of the nature of the human form through a context of obvious genital depictions.

The show is perhaps one of the most visually relevant exhibitions currently showing in London at this moment. It is a source of inspiration and reflection to image makers of all médiums.

Schiele’s ‘Self Portrait as St Sebastian’ (1914 -1915)
Philippe Ramette l'equilibriste
Brassaï, oiseau de nuit, poète noctambule

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Miércoles, 12 Mayo 2021
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