Egon Schiele – “The Radical Nude” at the Courtauld

Our first stop during our recent short break in London was the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House. We wanted to catch their exhibition of drawings of nudes by Egon Schiele before it finished a few days later. It’s been a popular show was busy, but, fortunately, not so busy that we couldn’t see the drawing and spend some time contemplating the pictures and retracing our steps and taking a second or third look at those that were of particular interest.

The Courtauld’s website tells us

This exhibition brings together an outstanding group of the artist’s nudes to chart his ground-breaking approach during his short but urgent career

Schiele’s technical virtuosity, highly original vision and unflinching depictions of the naked figure distinguish these works as being among his most significant contributions to the development of modern art.

Even today the drawings are quite shocking in their explicitness, particularly the earlier ones from 1910 hung in the first of the two rooms  devoted to the exhibition. It’s hard to appreciate just how controversial they must have seen when they were first displayed.

There’s no doubt that the drawings demonstrate just what an accomplished draftsman and artist Schiele was. They are technically brilliant. But I have to say that I felt some unease about their subject matter in the explicit way he portrayed the women, including his sister.

According to the review in the Guardian

Schiele, …… is a feminist who puts women at the centre of art. He is a lover, not a hater.

I’m not so sure about that. I think he certainly liked women but the way he portrayed them he comes across as rather disturbed. His drawings are far from affectionate.

He did draw and paint male nudes too, including some self portraits. And they’re somewhat distorted too, with contorted limbs in unnatural, unrealistic positions and with hands and feet cut off.

This last week we’ve had a lot of debate in the media about Page 3 of that awful rag, The Sun. For many years bare breasted young women – “Glamour Models” – have been displayed solely as objects for the titillation of men. Quite rightly most women find this offensive and there has been a campaign against it in recent years. Schiele’s drawings are different. I don’t think his intention was to titillate but to show women as he saw them. They’re realistic but, at the same time not “real”. And I don’t think you can say they’re not sexualised – but in a rather distorted way. They’re much more explicit than Page 3 and could, indeed, be considered to be pornographic. There’s no question that they’re art. But where do we draw the line? I certainly don’t know. I do know that I enjoyed the exhibition. But I still feel uneasy.

Art Nouveau in Prague

In the years before the First World War, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Prague was an expanding city. New districts sprang up pushing out from the historic centre. Like other European cities at the time, such as Budapest and Helsinki, many of the new buildings were constructed in the then fashionable new style known as Art Nouveau or Secessionist. Like Budapest this was partly an expression of the nationalist movement that was struggling for Czech independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the war.

Consequently there are a wealth of Art Nouveau / Secessionist buildings in Prague, especially in the Old Jewish Quarter, on and around Wenceslas Square and in the “New Town”. Here’s just a few of them.

This is the “Municipal House” (náměstí Republiky), a theatre / Concert Hall and meeting place for Czech Nationalists. We took a tour of the building which was more than worth the cost. It merits a post of it’s own, but here’s a taster

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We also had our dinner (midday meal where I come from) in the cafe.

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Just round the corner from the Municipal House was the Hotel Central

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A close up of the Linden tree (a Czech nationalist symbol) decoration around the bay windows

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and on the top of the facade

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and the main entrance

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Another hotel – the Grand Hotel Europa on Wenceslas Square

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the main entrance

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And next door, the Meran Hotel

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A little renovation needed, but still a beautiful building

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This is the Koruna shopping centre at the bottom of Wenceslas Square. Less florid than your typical Art Nouveau building – more late Secessionist or early Modernist, perhaps

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The exterior is, perhaps, a little austere, but inside

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Fantastic stained glass

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The Trafford Centre doesn’t come any where close.

More buildings on Wenceslas Square

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The darn trees got in the way of my photos!

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A branch of Marks and Spencers (in Prague!) in another Secessionist type building

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Some close ups

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And there was a real wealth of Art Nouveau style buildings in the old Jewish Quarter – an area that today has become very “gentrified” with lots of high end designer shops (with guards to keep the “riff raff” out)

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Finally, not a building as such, but a monument to the Czech religious reformer, Jan Huss, built in Art Nouveau style, located in the centre of the main square in the Old Town

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There were many more buildings than we were able to see and we didn’t have chance to explore the New Town, but were at least able to spot some AN buildings as we passed through on the tram one evening. No piccies though!

The Alte Nationalgalerie

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The Alte Nationalgalerie is one of the museums on Museum Island in Berlin. It is home to a collection of  sculptures and paintings from the 19th century, many of them by German artists, not necessarily that well known outside the country, together with a number of French Impressionists works including paintings by Manet, Cezanne and Renoir and sculptures by Rodin (including yet another cast of “The Age of Bronze” – the fourth I’ve seen – and a cast of “The Thinker”).

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They’re housed in a neo-Classical building, built in the style of a temple raised up on a dais, it was completed in 1872. Since then the interior has been renovated on a number of occasions and modified to suit the exhibits.

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We had a few hours to spare on our last day in Berlin so decided to take a look round. We decided to concentrate on the Impressionist paintings, Rodin sculptures and other works on the 2nd floor and also looked around the first floor. After that, and all the other galleries and museums we’d visited during our short stay in the city, we were pretty much “arted out” so didn’t go up to the third floor – we’re not great fans of the Neoclassical and Romantic movements in any case.

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They have a relatively small selection of Impressionist paintings. I was particularly interested in the Renoirs which had been painted over a number of years and showed different aspects of his work and the development of his style.

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“Summer” (1868) is an early painting from his late 20’s. I didn’t recognise it as a Renoir when I looked at it as it is not that typical of the style of later portraits. It looked more like something painted by Manet.

And this group family portrait of  a mother and her children, “Children’s afternoon at Wargemont” (1884), is also not that typical of his style. It’s more “realistic” and a little “flat”

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“Chestnut in Bloom” (1881), however, was a typical Impressionist landscape.

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Of the other works on the second floor, I particularly liked the bleak Impressionist style landscapes painted by the German artist Christian Rohlfs (1849-1938)

“Chaussee nach Gelmeroda” (1893) (The road to Gelmeroda)

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“Hugelige Landschaft im Spatherbst” (Hillylandscape in late autumn) (1900)

 

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“Berkaer Landstrasse” (The Road to Berka) (1889)

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He is better known for the Expressionist paintings from later in his career (1900 onwards) and was considered a “degenerate” artist by the Nazis. His paintings were confiscated and removed from State owned galleries.

I thought these “Roman Goats” (1898) by Ernest Gaul (1869-1921) were rather “Rodinesque”

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On the first floor, I rather liked these portraits by Franz von Lenbach (1836 – 1904)

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“Lady Curzon (Studie)” (1901/2)

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“Theodore Mommsen” (1897)

But my favourite room in the gallery, on the first floor, contained Secessionist era paintings and sculptures. I particularly liked three paintings by Franz von Stuck

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“Tilla Durieux als Circe” (Tilla Durieux depicting Circe) (1913) – a very attractive woman (an Austrian actress) – I rather liked the frame too.

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“Die Sunde” (Sin) (1912)

and a self portrait which I neglected to photograph, but here’s a picture from Wikipedia

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