Confrontational Nudity At The Royal Academy Of Arts In This Major Exhibition

Klimt / Schiele, Royal Academy of Arts ★★★☆☆

Confrontational Nudity At The Royal Academy Of Arts In This Major Exhibition Klimt / Schiele, Royal Academy of Arts 3
Brace yourselves, more nudity to come. © Royal Academy of Arts / David Parry

A naked woman masturbates before us. Her leg lifted, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. That's what this Royal Academy exhibition does: it confronts you with raw sketches of the naked human form, by Viennese artists Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.

Klimt was a mentor to Schiele and this exhibition of works from Vienna hangs their drawings side by side, showing how Schiele learned from his mentor and changed his work under his influence.

The graceful nudity we'd expect from Klimt. Copyright The Albertina Museum, Vienna

Klimt was a creator of beautiful images and anyone who has seen his famous works such as 'The Kiss' can attest to this fact. His drawings follow the same trend — he uses nudity in the style of the Old Masters who came before him: graceful curves and serene looking reclining ladies.

A particularly tender work shows a couple embracing, a muscular man seen from the back holds on to a woman just visible beyond him in a loving hug. With the exception of the woman masturbating, most of Klimt's works here are rather tame compared to Schiele's. Klimt was a painter and his sketches lay the groundwork for his much stronger paintings. Schiele on the other hand was a strong draughtsmen and his works steal the show.

The more confrontational nudity from Schiele. Copyright The Albertina Museum, Vienna

For Schiele nudity is not a beautiful ideal, but an ugly truth. It aims to grab the viewer and force them to face a contorted body in its full frontal nudity. A red haired beautiful woman lies reclining but her eyes are rolled back and the way her hand rests on her chest is as if it belongs to someone else. Beautiful people are made to look ugly through the lens of Schiele.

There's a naked girl on display — she looks disconcertingly young and was in all likelihood a prostitute. Given the age of consent in Vienna at the time was 14 it's an unsettling sight and a work that will make viewers uncomfortable lingering on. It's been 100 years since Schiele's death and yet still his works have the power to shock us — we imagine that some of our readers could get into trouble even today if they're reading this article at work.

A delicate drawing from Klimt. © Royal Academy of Arts / David Parry

Schiele's works aren't objects of beauty — they are raw, visceral, uncomfortable and the main reason why people should visit this two man exhibition.

Klimt / Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum, Vienna is on at Royal Academy of Arts until 3 February. Tickets are £18.

Last Updated 01 November 2018