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Belvedere Showing Retrospective of Modernist Herbert Boeckl
Herbert Boeckl, "Reclining Female Nude", (White Nude), 1919. Oil on canvas, 111 x 158 cm. Leopold Museum, Vienna. ©Herbert Boeckl bequest, Vienna.
VIENNA.- Herbert Boeckl (1894–1966) numbers among the chief exponents of Modern Art in Austria. He was a prominent mediator of the Modernist movement’s crucial artistic ideas, with his career spanning the period from before the First World War and the interwar years to the time of reconstruction after 1945. The self-taught artist exercised a lasting influence on Austrian art production with his views on art and aesthetics, first as a professor and later as a principal of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

In the 1920s, by drawing upon the accomplishments of the “New Art Group” around Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, Boeckl advanced to become the chief representative of expressive modern painting in Austria, dealing primarily with figural subjects and landscapes. Boeckl’s artistic strategy strongly distinguishes itself from both the graphic logic and consistency of Art Nouveau and the systematic method of Cubism. His intensive preoccupation with the art of Paul Cézanne, following a study trip to Paris in 1923, laid the basis for a new tectonic approach to figurative painting. In the 1930s, Boeckl modified the classical trend typical of the times with a fiery impasto style that reinterpreted the human body as a carrier of meaning in terms of existential issues, such as is illustrated by the paintings and drawings from the Anatomy series. Having essentially resigned from the official art business during the Second World War, Boeckl resurfaced in 1945, developing the teachings of Cubism further with a new, collage-like style, which apart from his paintings was also applied in frescoes and wall carpets.

This retrospective, devoted to a central figure in the Austrian Modern movement, offers a survey of Boeckl’s oeuvre executed between 1914 and 1964. The show comprises some 150 oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, and collages, including the designs for the most comprehensive cycle of religious frescoes in European Modern Art, which Boeckl painted in the Angels’ Chapel at Seckau Abbey between 1952 and 1960.

From Symbolism to Art Nouveau (1910–17)
Herbert Boeckl took the first steps in his artistic career while still at school, making copies of nineteenth-century landscape paintings in Klagenfurt Provincial Museum in the years around 1910. After graduation he initially made an unsuccessful application to the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, before commencing his studies in architecture. His works were first exhibited in 1913 at Kunstsalon Pisko, where he showed landscape paintings that were Symbolist in mood and Secessionist in their use of line. Boeckl served in the Austrian army from 1915 onwards, at which point his pictures began to show an expressive intensification in their use of line and space, similar in style to the works of Ferdinand Hodler, Kolo Moser, and Carl Moll. During his war service on the Italian front, where Boeckl served alongside the art historian Bruno Grimschitz (who later became curator and director of Vienna‘s Belvedere), he produced numerous portraits of soldiers and pictures of military emplacements, which he presented to the war press section for their
exhibitions. His large portrait of Grimschitz was first shown in Klagenfurt in 1918 at the tenth exhibition of the Carinthian Art Association, which also featured the works of Egon Schiele.

Eruption, Expression (1918–20)
In 1918 Boeckl signed a contract with the Viennese art dealer Gustav Nebehay, moved into a studio in Klagenfurt, and kept in touch with Anton Kolig, who lived in Nötsch. In July 1919 he married Maria Plahna, whose father owned a pharmacy in Klagenfurt. Stylistically, Boeckl developed rapidly in the first two years of his professional life. His point of departure was Oskar Kokoschkas‘s broad, pastose brushstrokes, which he adopted in The Engaged Couple (1918), while making the style more two-dimensional and richer in detail. In Reclining Nude (1919), which Boeckl first showed at the Vienna Kunstschau in 1920, the brushstrokes are no longer thickly clustered together but form a carpet of short, curved lines and scattered flecks of color. In the same year, visual elements are once again compressed into compact form. Luminescent red and blue tones, and the three-dimensional use of thick paint are a distinctive variation on the expressive painting in Europe at that time. Boeckl’s major works in this period are Group at the Edge of the Wood and Quarry with Red Shadow.

Impasto: Still Life and Travel Paintings (1921–23)
After two and a half years of prolific art production in the relaxed atmosphere of the Carinthian lake district, Boeckl began making extended stays in foreign countries from the spring of 1921 onwards. In November of the same year, Boeckl came across an exhibition of Cézanne‘s paintings in Paul Cassirer‘s art gallery in Berlin, where Oskar Kokoschka‘s works were also regularly shown. This experience, in conjunction with his lengthy painting excursions, led to a series of still lifes and urban landscapes. The latter still show the luminescent reddish–blue tones of Group at the Edge of the Wood, while in the still lifes (mostly compositions with bottles, fish, or lifeless birds) Boeckl used pastose, thickly layered paint. During an interlude in his native Carinthia (April 1922 to January 1923) in the area around Lake Klopein, Boeckl produced an impressive series of landscapes in intense shades of blue. Subsequently, he went on to study in Paris, where a number of museums and galleries were celebrating the discovery of Paul Cézanne.

Cézanne and Carinthia Mediterranean Modernist Art (1924–31)
Boeckl lived in Palermo with his wife and three-year-old daughter, Martina, between November 1923 and May 1924. Here he got to know the Swiss artist Max Gubler and made numerous painting excursions. The nearby stone quarries of Bagheria provided the setting for Large Sicilian Landscape. This painting, along with the scenes of bathers near Eberndorf Monastery on Lake Klopein, which he produced on his return to Carinthia, show for the first time the strong impact of Paul Cézanne’s work on Boeckl, as he had experienced it in Berlin and Paris. In Quarry near Töschling, he adapted the concept of the tectonic landscape found in Cézanne’s early works. Numerous still lifes also show Boeckl’s preoccupation with Cézanne’s ideas. In those years Boeckl’s style remained pastose, as in the Berlin period, but developed into a more open technique after his first exhibition in Vienna at the Secession in 1927. In 1928 Boeckl finally left Carinthia and moved to his studio on Argentinierstrasse in Vienna, where he worked until 1964.

Anatomie: The Paintings and Drawings (1931)
Boeckl finally settled down in Vienna in 1928 and moved into a studio on Argentinierstrasse. In 1931 he began to make studies in the pathology department of the municipal Franz Josef Hospital. For Boeckl, the study of the inner human body was a logical step from his interest in the tectonic and material aspects of the physical and spiritual worlds. Parallel to his depictions of the strong physical presence inherent in religious beliefs, such as the fresco Rescue of the Apostle Peter from the Sea of Galilee in Maria Saal and later in Hymn to Mary, Boeckl also showed a strong impulse toward portraying the physical constructions of nature and life in landscape paintings such as Quarry near Töschling and nudes such as Donna Gravida. His Anatomy series of paintings and drawings illustrates the confrontation with the harrowing fates met every day by the populace of a modern city. The large group portrait shows the pathologist Dr. Robert Teufel and an assistant in the foreground, working on the corpse of a man who died of sepsis at the age of twenty-two, under the observation of Professor Weltmann and the prosector Dr. Paul.

Truth, Body, and Soul (1931–45)
Herbert Boeckl’s contractual agreement with art dealer Gustav Nebehay ended in 1931. He subsequently developed an expressive realist style. His portraits presented numerous important personalities of the Vienna art scene at that time, while group paintings took the growing Boeckl family as their model. In 1934 he received the first ever Grand Austrian State Prize for his painting Hymn to Mary. He was officially recognized as a professor at the Academy and appointed as Austria’s commissioner of art to the 1935 World’s Fair in Brussels. However, from 1938 onwards he was marginalized by the National Socialist art scene. In 1939, after his first and only generation of masterclass students had graduated from the Academy (including Carl Unger, Grete Yppen, and Walter Eckert), he transferred to the compulsory course in life drawing, which he taught until 1964. Boeckl then began work on a large series of Austrian landscape paintings and developed his group figure paintings further with Large Family Portrait.

Levitation: The Later Works (1945–66)
After the end of World War II, the Austrian government named Boeckl as rector of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He was the only artist at the institution who had been a Modernist even before the Anschluss in 1938. Boeckl became a central figure in the politics of the art world in the recently established Second Republic, thanks to his first retrospective in 1946 and first monograph in 1947, as well as the invitations he issued to Fritz Wotruba and Albert Paris Gütersloh to join the Academy. Boeckl developed a geometrical, spatial use of color in his paintings, with realistic fragmented forms, religious subjects, and the depiction of floating figures. He found the perfect analogy for his style in the levitations of St. Joseph of Copertino, which he portrayed in a triptych named after the saint. As research for the frescoes in the Benedictine abbey at Seckau (1952–60) Boeckl studied medieval works of sacred art in Spain in 1951, predominantly Minoan art in Greece in 1955, and ancient Egyptian paintings in Cairo and the Valley of the Kings in 1959. Motifs from these travels flowed into the frescoes at Seckau and the monumental tapestry The World and Man.

Belverde | Herbert Boeckl | Modernist Movement |


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