Hi all, sorry its been such a long time since I last updated. I’ve been busy in the land of the living. I have a backlog of images and videos that need to be uploaded. Life should become a bit more structured now, I have gotten myself a Monday to Friday 9-5 job. So will be able to go full steam ahead with buying a new darkroom enlarger! Hurrah!…Once payday kicks in…
In other news, I’ve been visiting the many wonderful galleries that we have dotted around London. There was a fantastic exhibtion showing in The National Gallery, the likes of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka are just to name a few artists that were on show. The exhibition examined the central role of portraiture played in Viennese paintings around that time.
Death and sickness stalk the exhibition. It began with a death mask, that of Beethoven, who died in 1827, and ends with the death masks of Schiele, Klimt, Mahler and Loos. In between there are portraits of subjects painted in death as well as portraits of subjects painted in life but who were dead by the time the work was commissioned. Suicide among the young Jewish men in particular, had reached epidemic levels.
One of my favourite portraits is that of Empress Elisabeth, created in 1899 a year after her assassination. Gyula Benczur painted ‘Sisi’ from photographs taken much earlier in her life as she refused to have her picture taken after she turned 32 in 1869. In doing so she has essentially made herself forever youthful in the history of visual arts.
I now turn your attention to the image on the left. You can see a portrait of Ria Munk, a young wealthy Viennese woman who shot herself after an unhappy love affair in 1911. Originally her family asked Klimt to paint a portrait but the result was considered too ‘deathly’, so they requested another in the style of her living. Klimt created a few more portraits of Miss Munk but alas this is considered to be the best – even though it never was completed.
In the Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III, he posed Ria before a highly animated wallpaper of stylised flowers. Ria holds her robe demurely closed and she looks directly at the viewer but a rather shy smile plays on her lips. Her formally chic bob has been replaced with a much more conventional hairstyle and her face almost floats above the picture plane. This version pleased Aranka, her mother, and although Klimt did not finish the painting, she kept it in her possession until 1941, when she was deported by the Nazis to Lodz Ghetto (german-occupied Poland’s second largest ghetto for Jews and Roma), where she was murdered shortly thereafter.
To the right we have the oil painting, The Family, created in 1918. The painting portrays Egon and his wife and a child that was yet to be born. Later on in the year his pregnant wife Edith would succumbed to the Spanish influenza. Schiele was devastated. Within three days Egon would also pass away. But during those few days he managed to draw his beloved wife a few times. It remains his testament of his love for her.
The exhibition was incredibly sad, you were very aware of the tragic ending that many of the those in the paintings faced, either by the hand of the Spanish influenza or by war. It was hard walking around the rooms and thinking that in some portraits the person died at the hands of another. If this exhibition comes round to a gallery near you, I highly recommend a visit.
Until next time – which I promise won’t be too far away!