The News Line Saturday October 12 2013 PAGE 7

FACING THE MODERN: The Portrait in Vienna 1900


Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900

National Gallery, Sainsbury Wing,
Trafalgar Square,London WC2

9 October -12 January 2014

Daily 10am-6pm (last admission 5pm)
Fridays 10am-9pm (last admission 8.15pm)
Admission charge 11 UK pounds plus concessions

THE UK's first major exhibition devoted to the portrait in Vienna has just opened at the National Gallery.

Portraiture is closely identified with the distinctive flourishing of modern art in the Austrian capital during its famed fin-de-siècle: artists worked to the demands of patrons, and in Vienna modern artists were compelled to focus on the image of the individual.

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 features iconic portraits from this time by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Richard Gerstl, Oskar Kokoschka and Arnold Schönberg.

These are displayed alongside works by important yet less widely known artists such as Broncia Koller and Isidor Kaufmann.

In contrast to their contemporaries working in Paris, Berlin and Munich, and in response to the demands of their local market, Viennese artists such as Klimt remained focused on the image of the individual.

Portraits therefore dominate their production, enabling this exhibition to reconstruct the shifting identities of artists, patrons, families, friends, intellectual allies and society celebrities of this time and place.

Paintings from major collections on both sides of the Atlantic are shown next to rarely seen images from smaller public and private collections.

Most works are on canvas, though visitors will also see drawings and the haunting death masks of Gustav Klimt (1918); Ludwig van Beethoven (1827), Egon Schiele (1918) and Gustav Mahler (1911), all on loan from the Wien Museum Karlsplatz.

A family photograph album belonging to Edmund de Waal, acclaimed author of The Hare with Amber Eyes (2010) is also exhibited.

De Waal's family were once a very wealthy European Jewish banking dynasty centred in Vienna; this photograph memoir has been described as an 'enchanting history lesson'.

The exhibition explores an extraordinary period of the multi-national, multi-ethnic, multi-faith city of Vienna as imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918).

The first room, The Old Viennese', looks back at bourgeois Vienna in the early 19th century, the so-called Biedermeier period, as represented by artists like Frederich von Amerling and Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller, whose portraits were 'rediscovered' by the city's modern artists in 1900.

It then moves to the 1867-1918 period with rooms arranged thematically to consider images of children and families, of artists, and of men and women in their professional and marital roles.

The period began with liberal and democratic reform, urban and economic renewal, and religious and ethnic tolerance, but ended with the rise of conservative, nationalist and anti-Semitic mass movements.

Such dramatic changes had a profound impact on the composition and confidence of Vienna's middle classes, many of them immigrants with Jewish roots or connections.

Portraits were the means by which this sector of society, the 'New Viennese', declared its status and sense of belonging; portraits also increasingly served to express their anxiety and alienation.

This can be seen dramatically in the expressionist painting The Family (Self-Portrait) by Egon Schiele (1918).

Schiele looks out puzzled, his wife sad and only their small son hopeful.

Another striking work is Portrait of Hans Tietze and Erica Tietze-Conrat by Oskar Kokoschka (1909), which is a boldly expressive painting showing the couple in state of shock.

By contrast is his Children Playing (1909), a softer, affectionate work with finer brush marks.

Another bold expressionist work is Nude Self-Portrait with Palette (1908) by Richard Gerstl.

One of the exhibition highlights is Portrait of a Lady in Black (about 1894) by Gustav Klimt.

Also on show is Klimt's Portrait of Hermine Gallia (1904), the haunting image of a Jewish. patron of art and design whose family would be driven from Vienna by anti-Semitism in the 1930s.

It is the only painting by this seminal Viennese artist in the National Gallery's collection.

The exhibition also features a room devoted to the portrait as a declaration of love and commemoration of the dead.

Here is the deeply felt Posthumous Portrait of Rio Munk III (1917-18), also by Klimt.

A final display looks at unfinished or abandoned works that failed to meet the expectations of artists or patrons.

These include, nevertheless, a dramatically expressive series of three portraits of biscuit factory owner brothers Carl Leo, Max and Hugo Schmidt by Oskar Kokoschka.