Wednesday, 22 September 2010


18/9/10, Leopold Museum, Vienna

Vienna's museums are large, numerous, imposing. The Leopold Museum is a collection of 20th century, largely Viennese works housed in a handsome modernist building in the Museums Quarter, which was once I think the Imperial stables but now houses several exhibition spaces including two modern structures dramatically inserted into the courtyard (this is one). Plus cafes and all the usual paraphernalia. We sat out in the autumn sun and ate.

My notes (this is written up two months later) talk about Klimt and Schiele as the Jekyll and Hyde of the Viennese Secession. In Klimt's Death and Life a collection of largely naked figures, including a baby, float among Klimt's signature patterning (which always looks like a patchwork quilt) on a plain background, while off to the left a skeleton with a club wrapped in a darker patchwork leers at them. The subject matter is dark but the treatment glittering and seductive. Klimt is a beautiful draughstman (especially in his early portraits).

Nearby is Schiele's Levitation: a predominantly brown picture of dead figures with staring eyes, in a landscape of flowers painted to look like wagon wheels. It's an image that prefigures scenes of the Western Front in World War One. A dark subject, darkly treated. Likewise a Schiele full-frontal self-portrait, with legs akimbo, all browns and yellows but for the nipples, eyes and genitalia, all an eerie red.

You get some idea of how Schiele transformed what he saw by a small portrait of his mistress Wally, thin and wide-eyed, close to a portrait of what she looked like in reality (very different). The painting, which is mesmerising, was the subject of a long-running dispute between the Leopold and descendants of its original owners after it was sent in 1997 on loan to New York for an exhibition at Moma and seized by the authorities: the legal dispute was only settled this year. Details here:

Kolo Moser was new to me. A very diverse figure. I noted Wotan and Brunnhilde. A series of mountain landscapes including one with a bright yellow house, some very straight, some playing triks with light and colour. His later works were straighter, in some ways, his earlier figurative ones very bold and expressionistic.

And then there are the architects. Otto Wagner designed the U-bahn stations. But Joseph Maria Olbrich was the revelation, not least for his Secession Building of 1897 which is utterly extraordinary and staggeringly original (the Secession were so called because they seceded from the National Academy of Art).

Too many of them died young, Olbrich of leukemia in 1908 aged 41, the other three in 1918: Moser of cancer aged 50, Klimt of a stroke aged 56 (the stroke brought on perhaps by fathering no fewer than 14 children on various women, I read in Wikpedia) and Schiele at just 28 of influenza.

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