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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Well Illustrated But Heavy Going in Parts, 23 Dec 2013
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Dr. R. Brandon (England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (National Gallery London) (Hardcover)
This catalogue was published to accompany the excellent exhibition, `Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900', at the National Gallery 9th October 2013 to 12th January 2014. The exhibition contained a number of paintings from early 19th century Vienna, a period referred to as the Biedermeier period, as well as the more familiar paintings of the turn of the century from artists such as Klimt, Kokaschka and Egon Schiele. The curator of the exhibition, Gemma Blackshaw, tries to suggest a continuous narrative between the early paintings and the later works by identifying similarities in purpose rather than execution, and in so doing avoid the usual review of the works in Freudian or psychological terms. The exhibition and catalogue both fail to some extent in this objective as psychological references appear to creep into the text quite frequently. It is interesting to note that despite a great tendency to reference psychological themes when reviewing late Viennese art, Freud himself did not like modern styles of painting.
The format of the catalogue eschews the usual presentation of essays followed by full page plates, for a series of eight essays by different authors in which illustrations and plates appear together, with no separate section. The quality of the essays is somewhat variable, varying from the rather tortured and heavy going to the very straightforward and lucid. I wonder how many purchasers will actually read all the catalogue. Themes covered include changing approaches to portraiture; Biedermeier ideas in a modern context; self portraits; female artists; the cultural role of the large Jewish population in 1900 Vienna; and finally the fascination with the portrayal of death. The text does explain very well the immense changes that occurred in Vienna, especially after the `Ausgleich' of 1867 when all citizens of the Empire were granted equal rights and a new middle class was created in Vienna, largely as a result of inward immigration. It is suggested that it was the struggle by the new middle class for position and recognition as a cultured elite that gave rise to the modern commissions in the 1890s and early 20th century, paralleling the old Biedermeier cultural norms of the 1830s and 1840s. (The same might be said of the architecture.)
Perhaps too much space in the exhibition and catalogue is given to the paintings by Schonberg. He had a singular lack of talent when it came to painting (some might also say music) but he possessed a very high opinion of his own work. Too much space is given to attributing overblown explanations to his very poor work. The exhibition and catalogue do introduce many pictures to a British public that would otherwise not be easily seen and are of value for this fact alone. A very well illustrated, if rather heavy going, catalogue which sets out a number of interesting themes that occur in 19th and early 20th century Viennese art.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 1 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (National Gallery London) (Hardcover)
Saw Exhibition. Wanted catalogue not so much for the paintings as for the fascinating text on a period of which I knew too little.
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