Jun 122017
 

Today is the birthday (1890) of Egon Schiele, an Austrian painter whose work is noted for its intensity and its raw sexuality that cut completely against the grain of the nude in Western art and caused him to be condemned as crude by the art world. Nowadays his name is not much recognized alongside that of his mentor Gustav Klimt, but I have known about his work for a long time since first being introduced to it by a girlfriend who was an art student in Oxford. I took that as a positive sign. He is now recognized as one of the founders of Expressionism – which I can’t honestly say appeals to me all that much, any more than does Schiele’s personal lifestyle: de gustibus . . .

Schiele was born in Tulln, Lower Austria. His father, Adolf Schiele, was the station master of the Tulln station of the Austrian State Railways. As a child, Schiele was fascinated by trains, and would spend many hours drawing them, to the point where his father decided to destroy his sketchbooks. When he was 11 years old, Schiele moved to the nearby city of Krems (and later to Klosterneuburg) to attend secondary school. To those around him, Schiele was regarded as a strange child. Shy and reserved, he did poorly at school except in athletics and drawing, and was usually in classes made up of younger pupils. He also displayed incestuous tendencies towards his younger sister Gertrude (known as Gerti), and his father, well aware of Egon’s behavior, once broke down the door of a locked room that Egon and Gerti were in to see what they were doing (only to discover that they were developing a film).

When Schiele was 15 years old, his father died from syphilis, and he became a ward of his maternal uncle, Leopold Czihaczek, also a railway official Although he wanted Schiele to follow in his footsteps, and was distressed at his lack of interest in academia, he recognized Schiele’s talent for drawing and unenthusiastically allowed him a tutor; the artist Ludwig Karl Strauch. In 1906 Schiele applied at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna, where Gustav Klimt had once studied. Within his first year there, Schiele was sent, at the insistence of several faculty members, to the more traditional Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna in 1906. His main teacher at the academy was Christian Griepenkerl, a painter whose strict doctrine and ultra-conservative style frustrated and dissatisfied Schiele and many of his fellow students.

In 1907, Schiele sought out Gustav Klimt, who generously mentored younger artists. Klimt took a particular interest in the young Schiele, buying his drawings, offering to exchange them for some of his own, arranging models for him and introducing him to potential patrons. He also introduced Schiele to the Wiener Werkstätte, the arts and crafts workshop connected with the Vienna Secession (a group of artist who rebelled against conservative art). In 1908 Schiele had his first exhibition, in Klosterneuburg. Schiele left the Academy in 1909, after completing his third year, and founded the Neukunstgruppe (“New Art Group”) with other dissatisfied students.

Klimt invited Schiele to exhibit some of his work at the 1909 Vienna Kunstschau, where he encountered the work of Edvard Munch, Jan Toorop, and Vincent van Gogh among others. Once free of the constraints of the Academy’s conventions, Schiele began to explore not only the human form, but also human sexuality. At the time, many found the explicitness of his works disturbing. Some undoubtedly still do.

From then on, Schiele participated in numerous group exhibitions, including those of the Neukunstgruppe in Prague in 1910 and Budapest in 1912; the Sonderbund, Cologne, in 1912; and several Secessionist shows in Munich, beginning in 1911. In 1913, the Galerie Hans Goltz in Munich, mounted Schiele’s first solo show, and another solo exhibition of his work took place in Paris in 1914.

Schiele’s work was already daring, but it went a bold step further with the inclusion of Klimt’s decorative eroticism and with what some call figurative distortions, that included elongations, deformities, and sexual openness (diagnostic of Expressionism). Schiele’s self-portraits helped re-establish the energy of both genres with their unique level of emotional and sexual honesty and use of figural distortion in place of conventional ideals of beauty. Egon Schiele’s Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands (1910) is considered among the most significant nude art pieces made during the 20th century. Schiele’s radical and developed approach towards the naked human form challenged both scholars and progressives alike. This unconventional piece and style went against strict academia and created an uproar concerning its contorted lines and heavy display of figurative expression.

In 1911, Schiele met the 17-year-old Walburga (Wally) Neuzil, who lived with him in Vienna and served as a model for some of his most striking paintings. Very little is known of her, except that she had previously modeled for Gustav Klimt and might have been one of his mistresses. Schiele and Wally wanted to escape what they perceived as the claustrophobic Viennese milieu, and went to the small town of Český Krumlov (Krumau) in southern Bohemia. Krumau was the birthplace of Schiele’s mother; today it is the site of a museum dedicated to Schiele. Despite Schiele’s family connections in Krumau, he and Wally were driven out of the town by the residents, who strongly disapproved of their lifestyle, including his (alleged) employment of the town’s teenage girls as models.

Together they moved to Neulengbach, 35 km west of Vienna, seeking inspirational surroundings and an inexpensive studio in which to work. Schiele’s studio became a gathering place for Neulengbach’s delinquent children, and Schiele’s way of life aroused a great deal of animosity among the town’s inhabitants. In April 1912 he was arrested for seducing a young girl below the age of consent.

When they came to his studio to place him under arrest, the police seized more than a hundred drawings which they considered pornographic. Schiele was imprisoned while awaiting his trial. When his case was brought before a judge, the charges of seduction and abduction were dropped, but the artist was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in a place accessible to children. In court, the judge burned one of the offending drawings over a candle flame. The 21 days he had already spent in custody were taken into account, and he was sentenced to a further three days’ imprisonment. While in prison, Schiele created a series of 12 paintings depicting the difficulties and discomfort of being locked in a jail cell.

In 1914, Schiele glimpsed the sisters Edith and Adéle Harms, who lived with their parents across the street from his studio in the Viennese district of Hietzing, 101 Hietzinger Hauptstraße. In 1915, Schiele decided to marry Edith, but had apparently expected to maintain a relationship with Wally. However, when he explained the situation to Wally, she left him immediately and never saw him again. This abandonment led him to paint Death and the Maiden, where Wally’s portrait is based on a previous pairing, but Schiele’s is new. Despite some opposition from the Harms family, Schiele and Edith were married on 17 June 1915, the anniversary of the wedding of Schiele’s parents.

 

Despite avoiding conscription for almost a year, World War I now began to shape Schiele’s life and work. Three days after his wedding, Schiele was ordered to report for active service in the army where he was initially stationed in Prague. Edith came with him and stayed in a hotel in the city, while Egon lived in an exhibition hall with his fellow conscripts. They were allowed by Schiele’s commanding officer to see each other occasionally. Despite his military service, Schiele was still exhibiting in Berlin. During the same year, he also had successful shows in Zürich, Prague, and Dresden. His first duties consisted of guarding and escorting Russian prisoners. Because of his weak heart and his excellent handwriting, Schiele was eventually given a job as a clerk in a POW camp near the town of Mühling.

There he was allowed to draw and paint imprisoned Russian officers, and his commander, Karl Moser (who assumed that Schiele was a painter and decorator when he first met him), even gave him a disused store room to use as a studio. Since Schiele was in charge of the food stores in the camp, he and Edith could get food beyond state rations. By 1917, he was back in Vienna, able to focus on his artistic career. His output was prolific, and his work reflected the maturity of an artist in his prime. He was invited to participate in the Secession’s 49th exhibition, held in Vienna in 1918. Schiele had fifty works accepted for this exhibition, and they were displayed in the main hall. He also designed a poster for the exhibition, which was reminiscent of the Last Supper, with a portrait of himself in the place of Christ. The show was a triumphant success, and as a result, prices for Schiele’s drawings increased and he received many portrait commissions.

In the autumn of 1918, the Spanish flu pandemic that claimed more than 20,000,000 lives in Europe reached Vienna. Edith, who was six months pregnant, succumbed to the disease on 28th October. Schiele died only three days after his wife. He was 28 years old. During the three days between their deaths, Schiele drew a few sketches of Edith.

Fortunately Schiele was not Viennese, so I do not have to pummel my brain for a new recipe. He came from Lower Austria, and it’s important to realize that Viennese cuisine and Austrian cuisine are not synonymous. As in every European nation there are regional styles of cooking that are readily identifiable. Lower Austria is noted for its apricot production and, hence, an apricot stuffed dumpling called Marillenknödel. The dough is made using quark, German word for “curds” which have been whipped and resemble yoghurt somewhat. You can buy it in the US and Britain if you hunt. Otherwise, substitute cottage cheese.

Marillenknödel

Ingredients

5 tbsp butter, melted
1 cup/8oz quark (or cottage cheese, well drained)
salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ lb fresh apricots (8-10)
12 (approx.) sugar cubes
⅓ cup butter
1 cup fine dry breadcrumbs
3 tbsp granulated sugar

Instructions

In a large bowl combine the melted butter, quark, a pinch of salt, eggs and most of the flour. Use a wooden spoon then your hands to knead into a soft dough.  Don’t add more flour than necessary. Shape into a ball, cover and let stand 30 minutes.

Wash and dry the apricots, then cut them in halves, remove and discard the pit. Place 1 sugar cube between each pair of apricot halves and set aside.

Bring 3 quarts of lightly salted water to a gentle boil in a large pot.

On a lightly floured board, press or roll out the dough to a ½” thickness. Cut into 2”squares. Place a stuffed apricot (2 halves with a sugar cube in the middle) in the center of each square of dough. Press the dough around the fruit, covering them completely and as evenly as possible.

Add the dumplings to the gently boiling water in batches and cook for 10 minutes. Don’t let the water boil too vigorously or the dumplings will fall apart before cooking. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on wire racks.

Melt ⅓ cup of butter in a medium skillet. Add the breadcrumbs and 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar and sauté until caramelized a golden brown. Roll the dumplings in the caramelized breadcrumbs to completely coat.

Mar 162017
 

Today is commemorated in Lithuania as Knygnešio diena (Book Smugglers Day). The book smugglers were an important part of the Lithuanian National Revival. Book smuggler Jurgis Bielinis, who created a secret distribution network for banned Lithuanian books, was born on 16 March 1846, hence the date of commemoration.

In the late 19th century, smugglers transported Lithuanian language books printed in the Latin alphabet into Lithuanian-speaking areas of the Russian Empire, defying a ban on such materials in force from 1864 to 1904. The book smugglers (Lithuanian: knygnešys, or plural knygnešiai, Polish: kolporterzy książek) opposed imperial Russian authorities’ efforts to replace the traditional Latin orthography with Cyrillic, and transported printed matter from as far away as the United States to do so, becoming a symbol of Lithuanians’ resistance to Russification.  A want to salute them today as a general tribute to ALL people who resist tyranny, especially attempts to control ethnic populations through policies of enforced homogeneity.

After the Polish-Lithuanian insurrection of 1863, the Russian Imperial government intensified its efforts to Russify the Lithuanian population and alienate it from its historic roots, including the Roman Catholic faith, which had become widespread during the years of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the summer of 1863 Tsar Alexander II issued Temporary Rules for State Junior Schools of the Northwestern Krai, ruling that only Russian-language education would be allowed there. In 1864, the Governor General of the Vilnius Governorate, Mikhail Muravyov, ordered that Lithuanian language primers were to be printed only in the Cyrillic alphabet. Muravyov’s successor, Konstantin Kaufman, in 1865 banned all Lithuanian-language use of the Latin alphabet. In 1866, the Tsar issued an oral ban on the printing or importing of printed matter in Lithuanian. Although de jure the order had no legal force, it was executed de facto until 1904. During this time, there were approximately 55 printings of Lithuanian books in Cyrillic.

Most of the Latin-alphabet Lithuanian-language books and periodicals published at the time were printed in Lithuania Minor and then smuggled into Lithuania. When caught, the book smugglers were punished by fines, banishment, and exile, including deportation to Siberia. Some were simply shot in the head while crossing the border or executed on the spot.

In 1867, Motiejus Valančius, the Bishop of Žemaitija, began to covertly organize and finance this printing abroad and sponsored the distribution of Lithuanian-language books within Lithuania. In 1870, his organization was uncovered with the help of Prussian authorities, and five priests and two book smugglers were exiled to remote areas of Russia. Other book smugglers carried on his work.

During the final years of the ban, an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 books were smuggled in annually. About one-third of them were seized by authorities. Lithuanian books reached every settlement in Lithuania, and many legal institutions served as undercover transfer points for the books. A number of secret organizations distributed the books throughout Lithuania, including Sietynas, Atgaja, Teisybė, Prievarta, Aušrinė, Atžala, Lizdas, Akstinas, Spindulys, Svirplys, Žiburėlis, Žvaigždė, and Kūdikis.

The ban’s lack of success was recognized by the end of the 19th century, and in 1904, under the official pretext that the minorities within the Russian Empire needed to be pacified after the Russo-Japanese War, the ban on Lithuanian-language publications was lifted. In 1905, soon after the ban was lifted, one of the book smugglers, Juozas Masiulis, opened his own bookstore in Panevėžys. This bookstore is still operational, and a chain of bookstores operates in Lithuania under his name.

This historical episode was widely suppressed during the years when Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, book smugglers were honored in Lithuania with museums, monuments, and street names. A statue dedicated to “The Unknown Book Smuggler” stands in Kaunas.

Cepelinai (lit. ‘zeppelins’; singular: cepelinas) or didžkukuliai is a traditional Lithuanian dish of stuffed potato dumplings. The dumplings are made from grated and mashed potatoes and stuffed with ground meat or dry cottage cheese (curd) or mushrooms. They are often served with a cream sauce and bacon bits. It is sometimes called the national dish of Lithuania. Brown button mushrooms have various names throughout the world. I call them crimini mushrooms but they are also known as Swiss brown mushrooms, Roman brown mushrooms, Italian brown mushrooms, brown cap mushrooms, or chestnut mushrooms.  They are used in this recipe but it’s no great disaster to use white button mushrooms instead. A normal Lithuanian main dish would be two dumplings, plus sauce, plus vegetables, plus bread. One dumpling is enough for me.

Cepelinai

Ingredients

400g waxy potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
250g  ground pork
½ tsp ground caraway seeds
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
plain flour
2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
1 tsp butter
200g crimini mushrooms, sliced
200g crème fraîche
2 strips streaky bacon
fresh dill, chopped
salt

Instructions

Divide the potatoes into 2 batches. Peel one batch and dice them small. Boil for 15 to 20 minutes until they are tender. Drain and mash them.

Peel and finely grate the remaining potatoes. Place them in a large bowl lined with a clean tea towel. Bring the edges of the tea towel together and squeeze tightly to expel any liquid.  Keep 2 tablespoons of this juice and discard the rest.

In another large mixing bowl, add the reserved potato juice, the grated potato, mashed potato, and half of the beaten egg. Beat everything together well and season to taste with salt. Set aside to cool, then chill while you prepare the filling.

Mix together the one-third of the shallots, ground pork, caraway seeds, garlic, remaining egg and salt to taste.

Mix 1 tablespoon of flour into the potato mixture and divide it into 8. Dust the work surface and your hands with flour. Lightly shape the potato dough into flat, round patties, approximately 1cm thick. Divide the pork filling into 8. Put 1 portion of the pork filling in the middle of each patty, then gently pull the dough up and around to encase the pork and form a dumpling. Roll them in your hands to achieve the signature zeppelin shape.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Carefully lower in the dumplings, cover and cook gently for 30 minutes.  If you do not have a large enough pot you will have to do this step in batches. It is crucial to keep the water at a gentle simmer and not to let it boil, otherwise the dumplings will disintegrate.

Grill or fry the bacon until it is crisp then chop it into bits and set aside.

Pour 100ml of boiling water over the dried porcini and leave them to stand for 5 minutes. Heat the butter over medium heat in a saucepan and add the remaining shallots.  Cook them gently until they are translucent. Add the crimini mushrooms and cook for 5 more minutes. Pour in 1 tablespoon of the water from the porcini mushrooms. Chop the porcini mushrooms and add them to the pan. Fold in the crème fraîche, bring to a simmer. Add salt to taste.

Put 1 or 2 dumplings on each plate and pour over the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle the dill and bacon pieces over just before serving.  Serve with a green vegetable and crusty bread.

Yield: 8 dumplings