Vienna had long been a centre of liberal intellectual and cultural creativity. But as the fusty old fashioned hierarchical Austro-Hungarian Empire crumbled in 1918, two of the leading artists of this Viennese movement died – Gustav Kimt, the grand-master of this artistic movement, and the young Egon Schiele. Both men were constant sketchers and drawers, using the medium to not just plan larger works, but to explore the new modernity, ideas of subjectiveness, eroticism and sexuality. Klimt / Schiele at the RA brings to London, from the Albertina Museum in Vienna, a collection of drawings by these two leading, early 20th Century, Viennese artists . Some, given their delicacy will not be displayed again for years.
The exhibition is consists of some 100 drawings by the two artists in the last 10 years or so of their lives. The two artists are somehow similar yet so different. Klimt’s drawings tend to be preparatory works for larger paintings – the exhibition contains a study for his Beethoven Frieze and a light drawing of two lovers standing which instantly calls to mind his masterpiece The Kiss. Schiele, after struggling not to be a pastiche of Klimt, found his own more jagged style of art and drawing. His drawings are more angular, definite and defined; finished works in their own right, in a way that Klmit’s are not. Some of Schiele’s drawings, particularly the sexually explicit models contorted into strange shapes, are painted in strikingly raw colours laid on with short angular and confident stokes.
While Klimt was the darling of the art establishment by this time and received many large commissions from the State, Schiele was a young newcomer to Vienna who much admired the elder artist and had troubles finding patrons and money. It is this that makes Schiele’s drawings so different despite them both exploring the same ideas. Where Klimt was painting and drawing society figures, Schiele was drawing, family, friends, himself, poor children and women of the streets. This money vs poverty is evident in the more languid style of Klimt and harsh raw nature of Schiele’s work. This is perhaps the most intriguing part of the exhibition; it’s laying bare of how two artist, of similar views, ideas and interests, develop such different styles and ways of exploring because to the situations they inhabit. It is a window into the high and the low society of Vienna at that time and the ways these concepts and ideas were applied to them.
4th November 2018 – 3rd February 2019
Feature Image – Authors own image of Egon Schiele, Nude Self-Portrait, Squatting, 1916.