The critical landscape: Egon Schiele is famed for his figures, but many of his works were landscapes. Elizabeth Clegg reviews the first exhibition devoted to them, at the Leopold Museum, Vienna
Apollo, Jan, 2005 by Elizabeth Clegg
Continued from page 1.
In the largely thematic grouping of the current display (which also informs the internal arrangement of section three, reserved for works on paper) it is as much the reiteration as the development of the favoured motifs that hints at their depth of meaning for Schiele. Autumn tree in turbulent air of 1912, reproduced on the previous page, mediates between the earlier single subjects--the gaunt Sunflower of 1909-10 or the 'dancing' Small tree in late Autumn of 1911--and the subsequent group compositions that culminate in the Four trees of 1917, stiffly aligned against a striated reddish sky. As has frequently been remarked, the picture of 1912 tends to strike the modernist eye as almost 'abstract', and then to suggest an allegory of spiritual torment. But it is informed, if not entirely explained, by a blend of alert observation and affectionate regard for popular tradition. The flailing branches seem at first as if torn free on account of the quasi-invisibility of a trunk coated in lime; the bright patches around several of the few remaining leaves acknowledge the phenomenon known in meteorological lore as a sign of imminent snow and the undulations of the dark ribbon of distant hills is easily read as code for the environs of Vienna.
The 1915 painting of Krumau, by contrast, represents one of the last stages in Schiele's evolving response to this locality, which the exhibition traces from the haunting, nocturnal 'snapshots' of the shabbily venerable facade of its town hall and the first bird's-eye views of the huddled dwellings of the 'Town on the Blue River' series (all of 1910-11) to the more expansive vistas with stately rows of buildings fronting the Moldau (1912-14). Compositionally exuberant and chromatically exquisite, the three 'Crescent of Houses' paintings, above all that illustrated here, are an affirmation of Schiele's vision of the urban reconciled with the rural, of the man-made as a manifestation of the organic. More specifically (as argued by Smith in the strongest chapter of her volume), the mottled, wayward roofs and walls of this concentrate of Krumau attest to Schiele's faith in what he and many Austro-German contemporaries identified as its enduringly 'Gothic' character.
'Egon Schiele: Landschaften' opened at the Leopold Museum, Vienna, on 17 September 2004 and continues until 18 January. The catalogue, by Rudolf Leopold, is published by Prestel Verlag, Munich, ISBN 3791360230, 29.80 [euro] (paper), 3791332147, 49.95 [euro] (cloth), and in English, ISBN 3791360221.
Kimberly A. Smith's Between Ruin and Renewal: Egon Schiele's Landscapes is published by Yale University Press, ISBN 0300097484 (cloth), $50.00/ 37.50 [pounds sterling].
The exhibition 'Schiele & Roessler: Der Kunstler und sein Forderer. Kunst und Networking im fruhen 20. Jahrhundert' was at the Wien Museum, Vienna, from 8 July to 10 October 2004. The catalogue, edited by Tobias G. Natter and Ursula Storch, is published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, Ostfildern, ISBN 3775714790 (cloth), 25 [euro].
Elizabeth Clegg writes on the visual arts in nineteenth- and twentieth-century central Europe.
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