Now on the centenary of their deaths, 100 of Klimt and Schiele’s exquisite, fragile drawings are on display for the first time in the UK. This Royal Academy exhibition offers an intimate insight into the parallels and differences in both artists' practice and reveals how each enriched the work of the other, while pushing the expressive and erotic possibilities of the line in Art-Nouveau Austria.
The two had an unorthodox relationship from the start. When Schiele moved to Vienna in 1906, Klimt, 28 years his senior, was already an established and celebrated society portrait artist, as well as a leading figure of the Viennese avant-garde. But the young Schiele's bold experimentation with the human form, explicit depictions of female sexuality and prodigious talent soon attracted Klimt's attention.
Egon Schiele, Seated Female Nude, Elbows Resting on Right Knee, 1914. The Albertina Museum, Vienna
Arranged thematically in five sections, this Royal Academy exhibition explores notions of eroticism, subjectivity and isolation. The drawings are diverse in theme and subject: society portraits, landscapes and erotic nudes are on show alongside the artists’ sketchbooks, graphic designs, lithographs and photographs.
From the outset, it's Klimt versus Schiele. We play witness to an unadulterated comparison of two geniuses: in portraiture and erotica, in technique and style. We see Klimt's intensive exploration of the human figure through two key projects – a state commission of allegories Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, and his seminal Beethoven Frieze realised in 1902. Both showcase his revolutionary approach to line: we see the female form in naturalistic splendour, pronounced body contours with no shading, and the sensuous shapes of the femme fatale protrude from the page. Then there's the masturbating nude on her back: her eyes closed, leg raised, the model delicately caresses her clitoris. Klimt's soft, supple lines and decorative patterning convey the pleasure she feels. It sends a splendid shiver down your spine. In rejecting the conservatism of the academy, Klimt forged a new Modernist path.
Egon Schiele, The Cellist, 1910. The Albertina Museum
Schiele followed suite. But his unorthodox approach to portraiture met with harsh criticism, and a prison sentence – in 1912 Schiele was convicted for exhibiting pornographic material to minors. It's easy to see why. Sexualised child prostitutes disgust and unflinching angular self-portraits, painted between 1909 and 1918, provoke unease. In Self-Portrait in White Garment, 1911, Schiele grimaces and glares at the viewer, his long, angular hands clenched in claw-like fists. In another, he sits hunched, his nipples heightened with rose, his head cocked, his flaccid penis at the heart of the composition.
But they draw you in; they totally subsume you. We stand intrigued, transfixed, repulsed even, before his formidable contorted lines. At times highlighted with strategic splashes of gouache and watercolour, at times truncated, Schiele's line pulsates with energy. He scrutinizes his models, and crudely, viscerally lays them bare. Viewer becomes voyeur. In Schiele's erotic drawings, sexuality is symbolic of life. We see Schiele explore the physical and psychological – new ideas about the mind and body using form.
For all these comparisons, Klimt and Schiele’s creative processes and final works are very different. While many of Klimt’s drawings were made in preparation for his paintings, Schiele valued his drawings in-and-of-themselves, selling them as independent works of finished art. Although both are naturalistic, raw and explicit at times, their styles are often worlds apart. Klimt is delicate, Schiele bold.
Austria’s two most famous artists succeeded in challenging expectation. One hundred years on, this intimate exhibition shows that they are as radical as ever.
|What||Royal Academy Exhibition review: Klimt/Schiele: Drawings from the Albertina Museum|
|Where||Royal Academy, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Green Park (underground)|
04 Nov 18 – 03 Feb 19, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Please click here for more information|