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Comprehensive Presentation of the Makart Phenomenon at the Belvedere in Vienna
Hans Makart, Bacchus and Ariadne, 1873-74. Oil on canvas, 476 x 784 cm. Belvedere, Vienna © Belvedere, Vienna.

VIENNA.- Like no other artist of the nineteenth century, the “artist prince” Hans Makart left his stamp on a time whose symbol he rose to become, and which went down in the annals of history as the “Makart era”. The Belvedere and the Wien Museum are devoting two exhibitions to this exceptional artist of the Vienna Ringstrasse period in a comprehensive presentation of the Makart phenomenon – Makart: Painter of the Senses (Lower Belvedere) and Makart: A Painter Rules the City (Wien Museum in the Künstlerhaus). The focal point of the Belvedere show are Hans Makart’s paintings, whose significance for modern art is being examined in an international context for the first time. The exhibition at the Wien Museum is dedicated to the highly varied relationship between artist, city, and society.

Summoned to Vienna as a young talent by the imperial family, Makart, despite a lack of public commissions, was able to establish himself as an independent artist, as he had already successfully done in Munich. In competition for public favour, the new art world that was emerging at the time developed fresh possibilities for the marketing and reception of art. Comprehensibility, innovation, and scandal were prerequisites for popular success and led to new strategies of treatment and such original art forms as the sensational picture. The artists broke away from the binding norms that had been in effect until then, taking new paths. With his works Makart served established ideas of art, yet at the same time abandoned the Historicist style of painting in order to develop a novel use of colour entirely in the pursuit of art. The open and unencumbered atmosphere of the emerging industrial age allowed him, right in the middle of Historicism, to breathe new life into the Baroque and to utilise the expansive forms of illusionist staging. It was, however, more than anything else the sensuality that made his works distinctive. They were popular among the rising bourgeoisie and soon became a measuring stick of social recognition and repute. Makart understood well how to avail himself of the new possibilities to popularise his works and apply his own aesthetic language. His subjects became emblematic reflections of his time and attracted attention at home and abroad, as did for example his monumental work Venice Pays Homage to Caterina Cornaro, which was on display in the Künstlerhaus parallel to the 1873 Vienna World’s Fair and was thereafter presented in numerous European cities and at the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair.

After the last large retrospective in the Staatlichen Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden in 1972, the exhibition Makart: Painter of the Senses once again offers a representative overview of Makart’s work as a painter and presents it against a backdrop of international art. Besides the sensational paintings, Makart’s exploration of French art, especially the use of colour practiced by the painter Eugène Delacroix, and his experiences at the Munich Academy in terms of the artistic developments form the key aspects of the Belvedere exhibition.

His intensive pictorial exploration of Richard Wagner’s operas demonstrates Makart’s affinity for the new developments in art. The plans created by Wagner’s friend Gottfried Semper for a Festspielhaus in Munich and the Vienna Burgtheater inspired Makart to create his own architectural fantasies. The design for a study commissioned from Makart by the influential art patron and industrialist Nicolaus Dumba set the style for interior design of the Ringstrasse period and are indicative of Makart’s interest in a Gesamtkunstwerk, or a synthesis of the arts. The Belvedere show presents the Dumba room as a partial replica. Makart’s work with photography, which served him as tool, promotional material, and inspiration, is also examined in the exhibition, whose individual theme areas are accentuated by works in red velvet by the Austrian artist Gudrun Kampl.

Agnes Husslein-Arco states: “In cooperation with the Wien Museum, we have succeeded in shedding light on this versatile artist from various perspectives – in two exhibitions running parallel to each other, with major works from all of his different periods. It was important to me, after the last large retrospective almost forty years ago, to once again present a comprehensive overview of Makart’s body of work, as well as to underscore his establishment internationally and his significance as a painter on the threshold of modernity.”

“The collaboration between the Belvedere and the Wien Museum, two institutions with important Makart collections, has made possible something that is no everyday occurrence in Vienna,” remarked Wolfgang Kos, Director of the Wien Museum, “for not so infrequently large museums have put on simultaneous shows with the same attractive, crowd-pulling artists without any previous consultation with each other. Our Makart double project was carefully coordinated from the outset. It was important to us that the individual identity of each of the two museums remain recognisable and that at the same time an integral whole be created. So much Makart has never been in Vienna before!”

The Sensational Paintings

Makart’s monumental paintings celebrate the new bourgeois self-image before a historical backdrop. The opulence of his work is in the tradition of historical paintings such as those created by his teacher Carl Theodor von Piloty. Makart was not interested in the accuracy of the historical detail, however. He was interested exclusively in an opulent staging. The enormous canvases were designed to create a sensation, to appeal to a wide audience, and to contribute to the artist’s popularity through their reproduction. Due to the impressive scale of the paintings, they not only stood out among the paintings jostling on the salon walls, but were also virtually predestined to be shown in single-painting exhibitions.

Painter of the Senses
The personification of the five senses—Der Geschmack (Taste), Der Geruch (Smell), Das Gesicht (Sight), Das Gehör (Hearing), and Das Gefühl (Feeling)—in the form of female nudes exemplifies Makart’s multi-layered ability to interpret, and his talent for sensual painting. In contrast, the eroticism of the subtle hints in Moderne Amoretten (Modern Cupids) makes a fairly provocative impression upon the viewer. Makart’s contemporaries were much more intrigued by titillating poses, such as, for example, the bare ankle of the Mädchen in weißem Kleid (Girl in a White Dress) than by the naked female body. Thus Makart’s corporeality differs from the sensuousatmospheric approach of Auguste Renoir in Après le Bain (After the Bath). Makart’s pleasure in painting hovers between staged calculation in the representation of nudity and a purely artistic and craftsman-like interest in the material qualities of paint. This can be seen in the application of the color, in which the dark background with an impasto finish acts as a foil for the light, glazed pale skin. This contrast, too, makes a sensual impression on the viewer.

Makart and the age of Decadence
Makart sometimes used the handle of his paintbrush to scratch contours forming rough outlines of figures or landscapes into the often pastose layers of paint on his paintings—a technique reminiscent of Gustave Moreau. In the works of both artists the painterly freedom and nuanced corporeality lead to an ecstatic but nonetheless morbid sensuousness, which corresponds to the mindscape of the Age of Decadence.

Makart’s role model was the monumental painting Romains de la décadence (The Romans of the Decadence) by Thomas Couture, the teacher of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes, Anselm Feuerbach, and Édouard Manet—a work which was highly regarded by his contemporaries. In his triptych entitled Pest in Florenz (The Plague in Florence), Makart combined scenes of an orgy, which he had worked out in ten detailed sketches, into a single painting. Gluttony and lust together with violence, anger, and pride are depicted in the drawings and serve as examples in which the delirium of the Age of Decadence can clearly be recognized.

Makart and France
The contrasting colors and bold brushstrokes in Makart’s works are evidence of his study of the paintings of Eugène Delacroix. In particular La Barque de Dante (The Barque of Dante) by the artist who was Makart’s French role model served as inspiration and encouraged him to produce his own variations on the theme. Thus in Makart’s late period a design for a ceiling painting for the Kunsthistorisches Museum makes clear reference to Delacroix’ design for a ceiling painting in the Louvre. Makart’s lively application of color is similar to that of the Impressionists and their intention of rendering the illuminated surface by means of a liberal application of paint. Makart, however, achieves his intense color effects by means of a thick, pastose application of color which forms a contrast with the clayey grounding.

Makart, Friends and Colleagues
While he was a student at the Academy in Munich, Makart formed close friendships with the likes of Gabriel von Max and Franz von Lenbach, both of whom he knew from Carl Theodor von Piloty’s painting class, as well as with Mihály Munkácsy. Portraits they painted of each other’s relatives and acquaintances provide evidence of the lively interactions between the artists. A comparison of Makart’s open, free brushwork with the alla-prima painting of Wilhelm Leibl (another student of Piloty), or with the naturalistic precision of Gabriel von Max, illustrates the differences in their approaches to painting. Makart could relate to his fellow painter Hans Canon’s admiration of the Baroque, while he felt disconnected from the neo-classicism attempted by Anselm Feuerbach. A juxtaposition of still lifes by Makart and Carl Schuch makes clear the difference in their approaches to painting: Makart follows his artistic intuition in creating a scene through the use of strong colors and striking distribution of light, while Schuch applies the local colors rhythmically, without creating plasticity through light reflexes or color contrasts. In keeping with their characteristic painting styles, Feuerbach portrays himself in a “classical” profile, and Schuch represents himself engaged in self-critical observation.

The Staging of the Myth
Makart’s monumental work Bacchus und Ariadne (Bacchus and Ariadne) is best described as a triumph of Ariadne, or a victory of female vitality, rather than as the illustration of a saga. Originally conceived of as a theater curtain, Makart transformed the motif into a production containing many characters. This impressive composition would later also have an effect on Gustav Klimt, as can be seen in the latter’s design for a theatre curtain.

Anselm Feuerbach’s Orpheus und Eurydike (Orpheus and Eurydice) features a theatrical representation of the tension-filled climax of the mythological story, just as Ferdinand Keller creates a dramatic arrangement of the central failure of Hero und Leander (Hero and Leander). In Bacchus und Ariadne, on the other hand, Makart stages the happy end as a glorious conclusion.

Makart, Semper, Wagner
Makart began his study of the myth of the Nibelungen when he was still a student at the academy in Munich. The painter’s interest in Richard Wagner and in Wagner’s work went so far that Makart held a studio party in Vienna in 1875, together with Franz von Lenbach: Wagner and Gottfried Semper were invited with the aim of effecting a reconciliation after the failure of the Festspielhaus project in Munich. Makart worked repeatedly on themes from Wagner’s operas. Examples include a ceiling painting featuring the Ring des Nibelungen and another painting showing the sinking of the Nibelung treasure with the burning Valhalla. The commission to design the staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum saw Makart confronted with the architecture of Semper and Carl von Hasenauer. Semper and von Hasenauer had been jointly charged with the planning for the Kunsthistorisches Museum and Naturhistorisches Museum in Vienna. Makart was able to realize only the lunettes, however. Nothing but his sketch Der Sieg des Lichts über die Finsternis (The Victory of Light Over Darkness) tells of his conceptual idea for the big ceiling painting. Makart’s architectural fantasies reveal not only his interest in architecture, but also his intense study of Semper’s plans for the Festspielhaus in Munich and the Burgtheater in Vienna, which was being built at that time.

The Dumba room
Nicolaus Dumba, whose family came from Macedonia, was born in Vienna in 1830. The trading company established by his father Sterio and the latter’s brother permitted their heirs to become active patrons of the fine arts and music.

As a member of the board of trustees of the k. k. Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie (now the MAK), Dumba was one of the founders and supporters of the associated arts college (now the University of Applied Arts). He supported the creation of numerous monuments, including a monument to Hans Makart. Dumba was also a close friend of Rudolf von Alt and Johannes Brahms and actively supported the work of Richard Wagner. As the Vice-President of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde he was one of the prime movers behind the building of the Musikverein, which was inaugurated in 1870. As a result of his support of cultural matters he was made an honorary member of the Akademie der bildenden Künstler in 1880 and of the Genossenschaft der bildenden Künstler in 1882.

During the course of his membership of the Genossenschaft der bildenden Künstler, Nicolaus Dumba championed the building of the Künstlerhaus, which he also supported financially. It is possible that during this time he met Hans Makart, whom he commissioned in 1871 to design his study in the family mansion on Parkring. Makart’s commission to design the rooms should not be seen merely as a way of supporting the young artist; it also marked a new understanding of the art of representation and cultural self-assurance among the haute bourgeoisie. Dumba’s study became the yardstick for room design during the last third of the nineteenth century and a much-admired artwork, of which Ludwig Hevesi wrote: “The Makart room—who does not know it? That corner room on the first floor of the Dumba house, to which the eye of every passer-by is raised in the evening when it is illuminated.” During the fall of that same year the artist exhibited the paintings for the study in his studio upon payment of an entrance fee. It was not until 1873 that he completed the entire decoration of the Dumba Room. It was to be the only complete room design which Makart executed.

Hans Makart and Photography
For Makart, photography was an important tool and advertising medium for the staging of his works and his person. At the same time, his collection of photographs served to provide inspiration in his search for new picture topics. But Makart also used photographs as an artistic technique by including them in his paintings in a collage-like manner, as he did, for example, in Moderne Amoretten (Modern Cupids) and in one of his architecture sketches. Above all, however, the artist staged himself. Even at the age of sixteen he had himself painted in an unusual way—self-assured and unaffected. In this modern photograph there is no sign of the costumes and traditional pose which were typical of his later presentations. There is also a series of photos produced in the studio of the photographer Josef Székely which Makart used as a model for his painting Charlotte Wolter als Messalina (Charlotte Wolter as Messalina). In one of these shots the artist joins the actress, assuming the role of a bohemian who is infatuated by the Muse. Makart propagated his studio as a work of art through the photographs by Josef Löwy and Victor Angerer. They took pictures of the lavishly decorated rooms which were open daily for an entrance fee and which had become an attraction and a popular meeting place of Viennese society. For Makart, photographs of his studio and of his works in the form of postcards and visiting cards became an effective means of advertising with a broad impact. The artist was also inspired by Friedrich von Amerling, who had decorated his studio and house in Vienna in a similar manner before having it photographed by Carl von Jagemann.

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