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.

Jul 142015
 

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Today is the birthday (1862) of Gustav Klimt, an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other objets d’art. Klimt’s primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. In addition to his figurative works, which include allegories and portraits, he painted landscapes. Among the artists of the Vienna Secession, Klimt was the most influenced by Japanese art and its methods. In the 1960s and ‘70s several of his paintings from his “Golden Phase”, including The Kiss and Judith I, were popular as posters (I had several in my student rooms). They are instantly recognizable.

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Early in his artistic career, he was a successful painter of architectural decorations in a conventional manner. As he developed a more personal style, his work was the subject of controversy that exploded when the paintings he completed around 1900 for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were criticized as pornographic. He subsequently accepted no more public commissions.

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Klimt was born in Baumgarten, near Vienna in Austria-Hungary His mother, Anna Klimt (née Finster), had an unrealized ambition to be a musical performer. His father, Ernst Klimt the Elder, formerly from Bohemia, was a gold engraver. He lived in poverty while attending the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule), where he studied architectural painting until 1883. He revered Vienna’s foremost history painter of the time, Hans Makart, and readily accepted the principles of a conservatory training so that his early work may be classified as academic. In 1877 his brother, Ernst, who, like his father, would become an engraver, also enrolled in the school. The two brothers and their friend, Franz Matsch, began working together and by 1880 they had received numerous commissions as a team that they called the “Company of Artists”. They also helped their teacher in painting murals in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Klimt began his professional career painting interior murals and ceilings in large public buildings on the Ringstraße, including a successful series of “Allegories and Emblems”.

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In 1888 Klimt received the Golden Order of Merit from Emperor Franz Josef I of Austria for his contributions to murals painted in the Burgtheater in Vienna. He also became an honorary member of the University of Munich and the University of Vienna. In 1892 Klimt’s father and brother Ernst both died, and he had to assume financial responsibility for their families. The tragedies also affected his artistic vision and soon he moved towards a new personal style. Characteristic of his style at the end of the 19th century is the inclusion of nuda veritas (nude truth) as a symbolic figure in some of his works, including Ancient Greece and Egypt (1891), Pallas Athene (1898) and Nuda Veritas (1899). In the early 1890s Klimt met Emilie Louise Flöge (a sister of his sister-in-law) who was to be his companion until the end of his life. His painting, The Kiss (1907–08), is thought to be an image of them as lovers. He designed many costumes she created and modeled in his works. During this period Klimt fathered at least fourteen children.

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Klimt became one of the founding members and president of the Wiener Sezession (Vienna Secession) in 1897, and also co-founder of the group’s magazine, Ver Sacrum (“Sacred Spring”). He remained with the Secession until 1908. The goals of the group were to provide exhibitions for unconventional young artists, to bring the works of the best foreign artists to Vienna, and to publish its own magazine to showcase the work of members. The group declared no manifesto and did not set out to encourage any particular style—Naturalists, Realists, and Symbolists all coexisted. The government supported their efforts and gave them a lease on public land to erect an exhibition hall. The group’s symbol was Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of just causes, wisdom, and the arts—of whom Klimt painted his radical version in 1898.

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In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create three paintings to decorate the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. Not completed until the turn of the century, his three paintings, Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence were criticized for their radical themes and material, and were called “pornographic”. Klimt had transformed traditional allegory and symbolism into a new language that was more overtly sexual and hence more disturbing to some.The public outcry came from all quarters—political, aesthetic and religious. As a result, the paintings were not displayed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. All three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces in May 1945.  Although his work was publicly decried, the Nazis stole a large number of his paintings whose ownership since the 1990s has been in dispute.

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His Nuda Veritas (1899) defined his bid to further shake up the establishment. The starkly naked red-headed woman holds the mirror of truth, while above her is a quotation by Friedrich Schiller in stylized lettering, “If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please only a few. To please many is bad.”

In 1902, Klimt finished the Beethoven Frieze for the Fourteenth Vienna Secessionist exhibition, which was intended to be a celebration of the composer and featured a monumental polychrome sculpture by Max Klinger. Intended for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. After the exhibition the painting was preserved, although it was not displayed again until 1986. The face on the Beethoven portrait resembled the composer and Vienna Court Opera director Gustav Mahler.

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During this period Klimt did not confine himself to public commissions. Beginning in the late 1890s he took annual summer holidays with the Flöge family on the shores of Attersee and painted many of his landscapes there. These landscapes constitute the only genre aside from figure painting that seriously interested Klimt. In recognition of his intensity, the locals called him Waldschrat (“Forest demon”).

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Klimt’s ‘Golden Phase’ was marked by positive critical reaction and financial success. Many of his paintings from this period include gold leaf. Klimt had previously used gold in his Pallas Athene (1898) and Judith I (1901), although the works most popularly associated with this period are the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) and The Kiss (1907–08).

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Klimt traveled little, but trips to Venice and Ravenna, both famous for their beautiful mosaics, most likely inspired his gold technique and his Byzantine imagery. In 1904, he collaborated with other artists on the lavish Palais Stoclet, the home of a wealthy Belgian industrialist that was one of the grandest monuments of the Art Nouveau age. Klimt’s contributions to the dining room, including both Fulfillment and Expectation, were some of his finest decorative works, and as he publicly stated, “probably the ultimate stage of my development of ornament.”

In 1905, Klimt created a painted portrait of Margarete Wittgenstein, Ludwig Wittgenstein’s sister, on the occasion of her marriage. Then, between 1907 and 1909, Klimt painted five canvases of society women wrapped in fur. His apparent love of costume is expressed in the many photographs of Flöge modeling clothing he had designed.

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As he worked and relaxed in his home, Klimt normally wore sandals and a long robe with no underwear. His simple life was somewhat cloistered, devoted to his art, family, and little else except the Secessionist Movement. He avoided café society and seldom socialized with other artists. Klimt’s fame usually brought patrons to his door and he could afford to be highly selective. His painting method was very deliberate and painstaking at times and he required lengthy sittings by his subjects. Although very active sexually, he kept his affairs discreet and he avoided personal scandal.

Klimt wrote little about his vision or his methods. He wrote mostly postcards to Flöge and kept no diary. In a rare piece called “Commentary on a non-existent self-portrait”, he states “I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women… There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night… Who ever wants to know something about me… ought to look carefully at my pictures.”

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Because Vienna was a major center of the arts in the 18th and 19th centuries, I have had cause to showcase Viennese dishes on many occasions. For Klimt I have chosen Tafelspitz, boiled beef, which is very popular in Austria even though it is really quite prosaic in some ways. It was the favorite of emperor Franz-Josef. The rudiments are to take a good piece of stewing beef, usually top round, place it in a large pot of beef or veal stock, bring slowly to a gentle simmer, skim periodically, and let cook (partially covered) for 2 to 3 hours until the meat is very tender. If you like you can add potatoes and leeks to the pot in the last 45 minutes to serve as an accompaniment. Otherwise, Tafelspitz is served with horseradish and apple sauce (sometimes sour cream). Without them this is just another boiled beef dish: they make it.