The portrait is one of the most flourishing genres of Modern Art in Vienna around 1900. The National Gallery offers from 9 October to 12 January, a retrospective from earlier times to the First World War, when Vienna was the empire of the Austro-Hungarian capital, to the beginning of the conflict. ‘Facing the Modern. The portrait in Vienna 1900’ takes a journey starting with the most liberal and democratic period, the urban and economic reform, religious and ethnic tolerance. However, it is giving a turn to show how society is changing and with it, the perception of the artists on it.
The exhibition is divided into six rooms. The first corresponds to the old Vienna ‘The Old Viennese’ where we found some portraits belonging to an exhibition held in the capital in 1905, in the famous art gallery Miethke. Through works like Cacilie Freiin Eskeles von (1832), by the author Friedrich von Amerling, the old Viennese society was presented to the new middle-class.
The second room focuses on the figure of the family, ‘The Family and the Child’. Painters like Richard Gerstl, Egon Schiele or Alois Delug reflect how political changes made the home a place of refuge and respite as well as imprisonment and complexity.
In response to political tensions in Vienna, many modernist authors portrayed the tormented themselves by taking human as the central theme of his works. The space number three collects some of these aesthetic statements, especially highlighting the canvas Self Portrait with raised bare shoulder (1912), through which, the author Egon Schiele experiments with his own body as if other material or technique is involved.
Room four shows portrait as a way to address the emergence of a new social class emerged in Vienna. Specially distinguished are the works of Hans Makart, for example Portrait of Clothilde Beer (1878), one of the most celebrated artists. Oskar Kokoschka, Gustav Klimt and Max Oppengeiner are other brilliant authors who complete the sample.
The fifth space analyzes the genre of portraiture as a declaration of love as well as commemoration of the death. Exquisite works by Klimt, as Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III (1917-1918) reflect the cultural pessimism of time while showing his fascination with the subject of death.
The last room, ‘Finish and Failure’, reflects the symptoms of a society which feels itself miserable in the face of a new period of transformation. Makart, Klimt (especially highlights his work Portrait of Amalie Zuckerkandl, 1917-18) and Kokoschka represent the development of the portrait in this last stage of imperialism. Unfinished, abandoned and broken, suggesting the failure of a model of state and society.
For more information about the sample, readers can go to the website of the National Gallery: http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/vienna