Last Friday I finally had the chance to attend an expert tour at the Belvedere again. The Belvedere has an outstanding programme of guided tours by curators and historians, and I try to go as often as I can (which, given my schedule lately, is less often than I would like).
The exhibit begins with a famous unfinished painting by Gustav Klimt of Amalie Zuckerkandl (unfinished because she couuld not afford payment anymore). Amalie Zuckerkandl was born a Christian but converted to Judaism in 1895. She became one of the many victims of the National Socialist regime. In 1942 she was deported and murdered at a concentration camp.
Sculptors too created representations of death and desolation following the disastrous war years. Anton Hanak was one of the most important Austrian sculptors of the inter-war years. In the first phase until 1918, he created mostly construction-based sculptures, many of which can be seen throughout Vienna, in the second phase mostly monuments. Several of his sculptures are on permanent exhibition at the Langenzersdorf Museum. In Ecce Homo (“behold the man”) he portrays a man so bent and worn that it makes the horrors war inflicted on its survivors palpable. (A little aside – note how in this photo the shadow seems to point at the museum guard – interesting coincidence for a sculpture titled “here is man”, I think.)
The painter Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg was born in 1889 Vienna and murdered in 1942 at the death camp Maly Trostinec in Minsk. Before the “Anschluss” in 1938 Schwarz-Waldegg was an established member of the Austrian art scene. From 1919 he was a member of the liberal artists’ association Hagenbund. In 1938, the National Socialists abolished the association and destroyed its archive. Schwarz-Waldegg initially worked with a tonality in which brown and gray tones dominated. During the first World War he also drew portraits of soldiers. After the First World War, his colours brightened, and he created works that sometimes hint at a modified cubism. His transformation to Expressionism around 1923 is marked by intense, bright colors and a dynamic brushstroke. In this very strong painting, titled “Confession”, from 1920, the subject appears to be reaching into his own chest to extract – we do not know what.
The exhibition also foreshadows hints of surrealism, for example in the work of Franz Sedlacek. Sedlacek was born in 1891 in Poland, but moved to Linz as a child and spent his working life as a chemist and painter in Austria. He started as a painter of caricatures for magazines and later began to paint in oil. His works may be categorized somewhere between New Objectivity and Magic Realism. He was drafted in 1939 and has been missing since 1945, presumed dead. His body was never found.
This very eerie painting, Ghosts on the Tree, first made me think of vultures, but a closer look revealed these are ghostly figures with skulls sitting on a barren tree. It conveyed to me a mood of sadness, anxiety, but also wonder. What did he mean to say? Is he referencing the dead of war?
The exhibit ends with a strong criticism of the hateful racism of the NAZI regime that brought the world World War II. John Heartfield (actually Helmut Herzfeld) is credited with being the first artist to create political montage. The meaning of his toad illustration for the Arbeiter Illustrierte Zeitung (workers´illustrated paper) from 1936, printed in exile in Prague, is quite clear with its message:
“Three thousand years of consistent inbreeding prove the superiority of my race.“
Lily Steiner, the only female painter exhibited here as far as I could tell, painted this Composition Baroque in 1938, an allusion to war and destruction in her homeland Austria. By then she had moved to Paris, where she obtained the artistic acclaim she did not get in Austria.
The second exhibition Markus Hübl showed us on this 90 minute tour is dedicated to Klemens Brosch, a contemporary of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Alfred Kubin, and Oskar Kokoschka. Klemens Brosch was born in 1894 in the Upper Austrian capital of Linz. He was an extraordinarily talented draughtsman. In 1913, together with his brother Franz and others, he founded the Linz artist association MAERZ, which he left only four years later.
Klemens Brosch was initially exempted from military service in 1914, but his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna were interrupted by the mobilization of Austria-Hungary in August 1914. At the front in Galicia (Poland), Brosch drew restless, realistic, radical, accusatory images of war. At the time his lung disease was treated with morphine, which over time led to his downfall.
Brosch was an outstanding artist, who produced a large number of drawings, watercolours and prints. His work has aspects of New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) and Surrealism. The difference between his early work and post-war work is quite striking. The war years made a lasting impression on him, as manifested in his work, but also in his mental state. He could not get rid of the trauma from this time throughout his life.
In his early work Brosch depicted flowers and landscape scenes in great detail, as in the drawing of Cherry Blossoms above. The drawing below, View through Door Window, was made in 1913. In it, we see the reflection of the viewer in a glass door, looking at a diseased man on a hospital bed. On the glass right where the viewer´s left eye should be, sits a black fly – a symbol of death. I find this a rather extraordinary drawing that shows the full extent of the artist´s skill.
During World War I, Brosch began painting nightmarish scenes showing the desolation of war. The Hangmen´s siesta from 1916 is reminiscent of Goya´s epic war scenes.
The dead in the ditches: Our father (Twilight Hour) and Starving Refugees, both from 1916, strike a chord today as well. War, no matter where, no matter when, is a horrible horrible thing.
Unfortunately Brosch was heavily mentally affected by World War I. He became incurably addicted to morphine, and in despair over his inability to overcome the addiction took his own life in 1926.
This special tour is on one more time on 30 May 2018 at the Lower Belvedere. Very recommendable! You can reserve tour tickets online. If you cannot make it, there are other tours of these two exhibitions that you can join, but Markus Hübl is a very interesting guide not to be missed.
By the way, the Belvedere also has a virtual gallery of paintings. Rather neat, if you want to look up paintings in their collection.
The Belvedere Annual Ticket is a pretty good deal at 39 €, considering that a single combination ticket (Upper and Lower Belvedere) costs 15 € (regular adult admission). With the annual pass you can go as often as you like to any of the Belvedere museums (including the modern art museum Belvedere 21), and expert-led tours are free (for general overview tours, there is a small fee).