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"Rainer and the Old Masters" opens at the Arnulf Rainer Museum in Baden
Exhibition view © Arnuld Reiner Museum. Photo: Kramar/Kollektiv Fischka, 2013.

BADEN.- For the last four decades Arnulf Rainer has been occupied in his paintings and graphic works with the expressive faces of art history. The exhibition shows overpaintings- and drawings of old masters such as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, Francisco de Goya, Vincent van Gogh, Leonardo da Vinci, Antonio Canova and Franz Xaver Messerschmidt. The show, curated by Prof. Peter Weiermair, opened on the 9 November in the Arnulf Rainer Museum in the former women’s bath in Baden near Vienna.

“I was fed up always overdrawing myself,” said Arnulf Rainer who, after the series Face Farces and Body Poses in the 1970s, began to work with third-party materials. Initially he found inspiration in eighteenth-century sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt’s grotesque Charakterköpfen [character heads]. Classical Greek and Roman sculptures, the self-portraits of Dutch painters Rembrandt and van Gogh, Renaissance portraiture, Goya etchings and classic works by Canova followed. Photographs provide the starting point for his “parasitical re-working” of these differing mediums.

The exhibition Rainer and the Old Masters is organized according to artist and epoch in order to illustrate Rainer’s stylistic changes. The reproductions of Messerschmidt sculptures and the existential self-portrayals of Rembrandt and van Gogh were usually dealt with in a powerfully expressive, nervous, graphic overworking. However, Rainer meets the formal discipline of both the classical sculptures and the Renaissance portraits—including Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa—with swathes of colour and a methodical use of veiling and unveiling.

"In addition to Arnulf Rainer’s continuing interest in ancient and classical art works—a tradition to which he, as a painter, considers he belongs—what this exhibition and its respective sections demonstrates is the changes in his vocabulary from an energetic, almost combatative engagement with the portraits to a celebration of beautiful faces characterized by harmony and colour,” says curator Prof. Peter Weiermair.

Rainer’s work with Antonio Canova is confronted with a recently restored plaster cast of Verlassene Psyche [Psyche Abandoned] by one of Canova’s students, Pietro Tenerani. In addition, the marble sculpture Harpokrates from around 1783 by Christian Friedrich Willhelm Beyer supplements Rainer’s series of overworking of mythological engravings. Both sculptures are loans from the glyptothek of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts.

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