The Royal Academy marks the centenary of the deaths of two of the pioneering figures of early twentieth-century art, Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele both died in 1918. The Klimt / Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna exhibition is one of the first in the UK to focus on the importance of drawing for both artists.
The exhibition comprises of around 100 unique works on paper by Klimt and Schiele, including studies for allegorical paintings, portraits and self-portraits, landscapes, erotic nudes and a sketchbook, as well as carefully selected examples of lithographs, photographs and original publications. These rarely loaned works are drawn from the holdings of the Albertina’s world-renowned collection, and, following the exhibition at the Royal Academy and due to their sensitivity to light, they will not be displayed again for many years to come.
Klimt made his name painting the interiors of state buildings in Austria, Germany and Switzerland and the Burgtheater in Vienna. Despite his work being respected by the Viennese art establishment, in 1897 he became the founding president of a radical group of young artists called the Secession, who broke away from the state-sponsored Academy to exhibit art independently. Klimt was able to develop a more unconventional and modern artistic approach that raised his profile internationally.
Schiele was twenty-eight years younger than Klimt and had shown prodigious talent in his youth, he was advised by his teachers to enter the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts), where he enrolled aged 16 in 1906. At the turn of the twentieth century, both found themselves at different points in their careers, photographs in the exhibition show Klimt looking every inch the artist, whilst Schiele in his portrait shows his belligerent attitude.
The exhibition is arranged thematically in five sections examining Klimt’s and Schiele’s processes in drawing and how their particular styles were developed over time.
Klimt’s drawings usually relate to his painted work therefore following traditional preparatory processes, Schiele used drawing as an end to itself and was interested in the expressive and graphic nature of the subject.
Although Klimt had influenced Schiele for many years, the drawings show that Schiele also influenced Klimt that create often very similar styles. In the early years of the twentieth century, it was the temperament of the two artists that led to divergence in styles. Klimt became Vienna’s most sought after portrait painter with regular commissions from the Viennese fashionable society whereas Schiele’s bohemian lifestyle was shocking the wider Viennese society.
Schiele began to live with his model, Wally Neuzil and in 1912 was arrested on charges of child abduction. The more serious charges were dropped but Schiele was jailed for a 24 days on the charge of public immorality. Schiele’s drawings were made to shock the often conservative Viennese society and he succeeded but realised that to make a career as an artist he would need to compromise and he returned to Vienna and gained some new patrons.
Eventually, Schiele was widely acknowledged to be Klimt’s successor and his drawings reflected his new status. However the First World War interrupted this progress, although in 1916, both Klimt and Schiele participated in a exhibition in Berlin.
Schiele was stationed as a military clerk where he produced drawings of Russian captives in a prisoner of war camp and some landscape and nature drawings. At this time, Schiele was featured in a special issue of Die Aktion, a Berlin avant-garde magazine.
At the beginning of 1918, Klimt was the most respected artist in Vienna and Schiele was making a name for himself both in Vienna and internationally. Tragically by the end of 1918, both artists were dead, Klimt died from pneumonia and Schiele succumbed to the flu epidemic.
This fascinating exhibition illustrates the way that the artistic careers of Klimt and Schiele were interwoven especially at the beginning at the 20th century. Both tried to rebel against the conservative elements of Viennese society, however Klimt managed to push the boundaries whilst appealing to the avant-garde collectors. Klimt’s influence on Schiele is evident in the young artist’s early drawings. From 1910, Schiele began to create his own expressive style which both shocked and fascinated the art world. Unfortunately the death of Schiele prevented the opportunity to see how his work would have developed, leaving a body of work that is often incoherent and disturbing.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Recommended
For more information and tickets, visit the Royal Academy website here
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