In an affluent Vienna at the turn of the 20th century two artists explore the avant-garde techniques and attitudes of the art nouveau. The two artists being Gustav Klimt and his apprentice Egon Schiele whose drawings and sketches today adorn the Royal Academy in London. The RA exhibition presents outlines and plans for acclaimed works such as Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’ and his seminal ‘Beethoven Frieze’ as well as Schiele’s pencil and watercolour embracing the exploration of the erotic. The artists’ studies of the female form and ideas of modernity and subjectivity were revolutionary and have been studied and admired ever since.
Afflicted by the conservative nature of Viennese art at the time, Gustav Klimt looked at the East inspired by the art of China, Japan and the golden mosaics of the Byzantine churches. The impact of these cultures becomes clear when looking at his notorious golden decoration patterns that were typical of his work.
Gustav Klimt looked at the East inspired by the art of China and japan
His figures are known to be often drawn from life which brings the viewer in this exhibition closer to his hand, precisely and intimately telling stories of human frailty through the body. Making the human form
the crux of his work, Klimt absorbs our gaze in accurately outlined representations of beautiful women bathing in their aura of classical perfection, which is captured with curved and sinuous lines. The prominent viennese artists was a true symbolist and utilised his skills to commence the Vienna Secession movement, the latter born from a dissatisfaction with the city’s traditional tendency to historicism and conservatism. The movement promised freedom to all the ‘artistic rebels’ who joined and its first president, the artist in question, designed a temple whose interior became a canvas for some of his most prominent paintings such as the Beethoven Frieze, whose studies are in the Royal Academy today.
Complementing the display is Klimt’s recognized pupil and companion, Egon Schiele, whose vividly graphic drawings and paintings were the cause of great scandal in the regal Vienna at the aperture of the 20th century. The works displayed in the Academy clearly expose the influence the artist received by Klimt but where the latter’s sketches are clearly studies, Schiele’s drawings are artworks in themselves. The colours he uses are often crude and dissonant, and his bodies are somewhat deformed and often present severed limbs.
representations of beautiful women bathing in their aura of classical perfection
In contrast with Klimt’s confident and fluent line Schiele’s are rough and complete the figures with quick gestures as if to execute an instant impression of his view. Even when the focus is not a human figure Schiele has the ability to charge it with emotion and attribute it his personal view. A few of his portraits are also present, which are dynamic in composition and emphasise the angularities of his figure. Contrary to klimt, Schiele often dove into the analysis of subjectivity and personal inner-feeling composing harsh and angular images. His study of the erotic makes Klimt’s works look almost conservative and are disquieting to viewers still today, especially because of the young age of the models who at a time caused him to be imprisoned.
Schiele’s… study of the erotic makes Klimt’s works look almost conservative
The two artists become almost opposite by the end of the exhibition having contrasting techniques and diverse interpretations of their sitters. The display, though brief, exposes various characteristics of the artists’ processes. However, the former seems to prevail in its focus on the works of Schiele letting Klimt’s studies, although beautifully emphasising his style, fall slightly in the shadow of his successor. Schiele’s use of colour and his scandalising portraits of women masturbating evidently make the viewers uneasy but also capture them making Klimt’s colourless sketches almost fall second place. For a lover of Klimt like myself the display enriched me with the knowledge of the artist’s studies and processes. Nevertheless, I personally found that the less renowned Schiele steals the show with his aggressive lines and scandalous images.