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Exhibition provides new insights into Egon Schiele's working methods
Touch Relief Egon Schiele. Squatting Couple (The Family). Photo: Ouriel Morgensztern © Belvedere, Vienna.

VIENNA.- One hundred years after the death of Egon Schiele, the Belvedere is presenting one of the most innovative contributions to this commemorative year of 2018. At the heart of the show is the museum’s Schiele collection. On the one hand, the focus is on the genesis of the collection while on the other it tells the stories behind the pictures. In addition, the exhibition presents the results of modern technical investigations, providing new insights into the artist’s working methods and revealing hitherto unknown aspects about the creation of his masterpieces.

The Belvedere’s Schiele collection today comprises twenty works, including sixteen paintings. The exhibition traces the paths followed by these works from their creation in the artist’s studio to their accession into the Belvedere’s collection and beyond. Their stories have been shaped by purchases, gifts, exchange deals, museum reforms, and restitution, and through these the varied history of the Belvedere’s collection comes to light.

“It is fascinating for me to recognize the role played by former directors in creating this outstanding collection. The vision of Franz Martin Haberditzl, for example, who purchased works by Egon Schiele for the Belvedere’s collection very early on, or Garzarolli-Thurnlackh, who secured eleven acquisitions. And finally Gerbert Frodl, who went to great efforts to acquire the latest addition to the Schiele collection in 2003,” said Stella Rollig, CEO of the Belvedere.

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Edith Schiele, one of the key works in the Belvedere’s collection, was acquired by the former director Franz Martin Haberditzl in 1918. It was the first oil painting by Egon Schiele to enter an Austrian museum. Haberditzl was himself portrayed by Schiele and purchased this painting for his own collection in 1917.

All of the paintings that have ever been part of the Belvedere’s holdings are on display in the exhibition. The show features prominent loans like Portrait of Wally Neuzil and Cardinal and Nun (Caress) from the Leopold Museum, drawings and watercolours from the Albertina, and further works from Austrian and international private collections, including several preliminary studies.

Archival exhibits – inventory books, correspondence, exchange records, and invoices – also provide a rare opportunity for a glimpse behind the scenes of a museum. An unusual aspect are the exchange deals that were made by museums and institutions over the course of many decades. For example, the Portrait of Wally Neuzil was exchanged for Reiner Boy from the collection of Rudolf Leopold; Squatting Women and Cardinal and Nun (Caress) were exchanged for several artworks, including an oil painting by Klimt. The Belvedere did not stop making exchange deals until the early 1990s.

The Belvedere’s collection was significantly altered by Hans Tietze’s museum reform that resulted in the transferral of works on paper to the Albertina in the early 1920s. But it is above all through the dedication and donations of private collectors that the collections of Schiele’s artworks in public museums and institutions have taken shape.

Charting the history of the Belvedere’s Schiele collection, curator Kerstin Jesse discusses each work in detail. She explores aspects such as the acquisition, the depicted motif or person, and juxtaposes his paintings with preliminary studies and related works.

“For the first time an exhibition is addressing the museum’s own complex acquisition history based on the works of Egon Schiele. These were given to the Belvedere or purchased by the museum, exchanged for other works, transferred and restituted. Furthermore, we have shed new light on many details in Schiele’s work and have thus taken a step forward in our understanding of his art,” said Kerstin Jesse, curator of the exhibition.

Extensive technical investigations were also carried out in preparation for the exhibition. For the first time, a museum’s entire Schiele collection was meticulously examined using digital x-rays, UV light, infrared reflectography, and microscopic and macroscopic photography. These detailed images of the paintings reveal remarkable close-ups of Schiele’s painting technique. It emerges that Schiele ascribed virtually the same significance to all his materials. It was only through the interaction of support, ground, composition lines, and paint that he captured his motif and gave his work its characteristic traits.

The exhibition also features a to-scale digital reconstruction of the first, more colourful version of the painting Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Edith Schiele, which Schiele painted over, probably at Haberditzl’s request. After more than a century, this portrait can be seen as an approximate reconstruction of Schiele’s original version. Some of the new research will be presented to visitors using augmented reality, again working in collaboration with the Viennese start-up company Artivive.

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