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Orient & Occident: Nineteenth-century Austrian artists travelling East on view at Belvedere
Installation view. © Belvedere, Vienna, Photo: Roland Unger.

VIENNA.- The Lower Belvedere devotes an exhibition to Austrian painters in Orient & Occident. Displaying 116 works by 37 nineteenth-century artists, the show leads from the Hungarian lowlands into the depths of the Indian Ocean.

In search of new artistic challenges and unusual motifs, numerous Austrian nineteenth-century painters set out for faraway countries in order to capture colourful markets and landscapes in glaring sunlight or in the manifold atmospheres of changing weather. “What was particularly attractive for those artists who took it upon them to travel so far was the exotic subject matter they could commit to canvas,“ Agnes Husslein-Arco, director of the Belvedere, points out. The exhibition Orient & Occident in the Lower Belvedere follows in the footsteps of these artistic explorers: starting out from Hungary, visitors are taken on a visual journey over the Balkans to the Dalmatian coastline, Greece, Constantinople, the Holy Land, and Egypt, and farther on to India and Sri Lanka. “A considerable number of the works on view come from the Belvedere’s own holdings,” Husslein-Arco says.

Hungary, Egypt, India, Sri Lanka – Austrian Artists Discovering the Big, Wide World
The show presents as many as 37 artists. A central figure among the Austrian painters sojourning in the Orient was Leopold Carl Müller: the Viennese artist spent nine winters in Egypt, painting countless market scenes, landscape studies, and groups of figures. Alois Schönn, Alfons Mielich, Karl Ludwig Libay, Bernhard Fiedler, and a number of further Austrian artists also travelled to Oriental countries. Others, such as Hermann von Königsbrun and Julius von Blaas the Elder, even got as far as today’s Sri Lanka and India. Whereas Eugen Jettel, Rudolf von Alt, and Emil Jakob Schindler undertook study tours to the Dalmatian coast, August von Pettenkofen, Otto von Thoren, and Johann Gualbert Raffalt went in search of new inspirations in the neighbouring country of Hungary. The landscape, with its low horizon, and the rich palette of atmospheric moods also attracted artists later on, including Tina Blau.

Prosaic Documentation Giving Way to Moods and Atmospheres
The exhibition visualizes a stylistic change in Austrian painting: while a distinct tendency towards an objective and documentary realism prevails in the works dating from the first half of the nineteenth century, visually charming motifs push to the fore as the century continued. “Whether it was tranquilly moving flocks of sheep, wildly dashing horses, endlessly wide, barren scenery, or bustling, exotic market scenes – the painters sought to capture the momentary mood and atmosphere,” curator Sabine Grabner explains. For example, Julius von Blaas the Elder, in his depictions of Indian swampland, and Theodor von Hörmann, in his impressions of Lake Balaton in Hungary, devoted themselves to rendering the reflections of the sky on water, with the ground appearing virtually dematerialized.

A Sense of Colour and New Dimensions
The rendering of such phenomena as the flickering sunlight and the blistering heat became a crucial element of the pictorial language. “The scenery was often rich in nuances, yet did not show any distinct colours. It therefore became a challenge for the artists to play with light and dark and a reduced palette of tones,” says Grabner. A new approach to painting is also reflected in the use of new picture sizes, such as the ‘cinemascope-like‘ landscapes by Otto von Thoren and Josef Selleny or the genre scenes by August von Pettenkofen, which were not larger than postcards.

The artists featured in the exhibition: Carl Agricola, Rudolf von Alt, , Joseph von Berres-Perez, Julius von Blaas the Elder, Tina Blau, Thomas Ender, Bernhard Fiedler, Hans Ludwig Fischer, Otto Friedrich, Theodor von Hörmann, Josef Hoffmann, Carl Rudolf Huber, Eugen Jettel, Isidor Kaufmann, Hermann von Königsbrun, Johann Victor Krämer, Karl Ludwig Libay, Alfons Leopold Mielich, Leopold Carl Müller, Rudolf Otto von Ottenfeld, Franz Xaver von Pausinger, August von Pettenkofen, Johann Gualbert Raffalt, Eugen von Ransonnet-Villez, Gustav Ranzoni, Hubert Sattler, Emil Jakob Schindler, Teutwart Schmitson, Josef Selleny, Franz Xaver Simm, Emanuel Stöckler, August Schöfft, Alois Schönn, Otto Stotz, Otto von Thoren, Jakob Waltmann, Charles Wilda.

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