Viennese Portraiture: Facing The Modern At The National Gallery

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 66 months ago
Viennese Portraiture: Facing The Modern At The National Gallery
oil on canvas  180 x 90 cm
Gustav Klimt (1862 ˗ 1918) Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III, 1917-18 © Property of The Lewis Collection
oil on canvas  140 x 110.3 cm
Frame: 162.6 x 132.1 x 5.6 cm
Egon Schiele Portrait of Albert Paris von Gütersloh, 1918 © The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota
Gerstl_leutnant1, 12.03.2002, 12:49 Uhr,  8C, 8000x9272 (0+1063), 100%, chrome 7 stops,  1/30 s, R62.3, G25.6, B31.5

130x153cm, Ö/L

Richard Gerstl: Leutnant  oil on canvas 150 x 125 cm
Richard Gerstl (1883 - 1908) Portrait of Lieutenant Alois Gerstl, about 1907 © Leopold Museum Private Foundation, Vienna
oil on canvas 72 x 108 cm
Oskar Kokoschka (1886 - 1980) Children Playing, 1909 Lehmbruck Museum, Duisberg © courtesy of Lehmbruck Museum, Duisberg / photographer: Bernd Kirtz / Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/ DACS 2013
oil on three ply panel  31.1 x 22.9 cm
Arnold Schönberg Blue Self Portrait, 1910 Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades/CA. Courtesy Arnold Schönberg Center © Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna / DACS London 2013
Gustav Klimt 1862 - 1918
Portrait of Hermine Gallia
© The National Gallery, London
Gustav Klimt 1862 - 1918 Portrait of Hermine Gallia 1904 © The National Gallery, London

The Austro-Hungarian empire may have collapsed at the end of the First World War but between 1867 and 1918 Vienna was the capital city of the empire and had a wealthy middle class. They commissioned many portraits and through these artworks Facing the Modern tells the story of Vienna changing from a tolerant society to one disturbingly rife with nationalism and anti-semitism.

The first few galleries set the scene with portraits painted in a traditional style by artists who are technically proficient but don't offer anything different from what was being produced across the rest of Europe. Viennese portraiture then evolved radically with Richard Gerstl employing an effusive style in a portrait of his brother.

Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka departed even further from the norm with extremely different styles, focussing on capturing emotion rather than being purely representational and upsetting patrons and art critics alike.

Gustav Klimt highlights the evolution in portraiture best. A technically brilliant and traditional portrait painter, he received commissions from many wealthy patrons. Yet he moved away from tradition producing bold and colourful works such as his portraits of Ria Munk. This change in Klimt is the most interesting aspect of this exhibition and it's a shame there aren't more of his works on show.

This exhibition paints a great picture of what Vienna was like at the time but a chronological layout may have been a better way to demonstrate the radical change in Viennese portraiture over this 50 year period.

Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 is on at National Gallery until 12 January. Tickets are £12.50 for adults, concessions available.

Last Updated 16 October 2013