Lessons from the Albertina

I visited the Albertina Museum while I was in Vienna where I found an exhibit of sketches and paintings by Durer and Rubens.

Scattered among the paintings by these old masters were some by a more recent artist, Egon Schiele (early 20th century, mostly pre-WW1).

I had to crop and modify the images to make them family friendly.  I am not sure why the curator would place the ‘paintings’ of Schiele next to those of Durer and Rubens.  According to the plaque at the entrance to the exhibit, the goal of the mixed exhibit was to show “the uniquely encyclopedic nature” of the museum.   No doubt!  The museum has taken diversity and inclusiveness to a whole new level!  But then again, it excludes those who want to see paintings by Durer and not the sick pornography of Schiele.

The plaque explaining Schiele’s artwork is full of Freudian buzzwords.

His [Schiele’s] discovery of the damaged psyche and of sexuality were to be the definitive means of unhinging art as imitation of nature.

This is a misleading comment for it suggests that art was once nothing more than imitation.  What modern art dismisses as ‘imitation’ is really the rejection of the basic laws of form and composition observed in nature.  This problem can be seen in other exhibits in the museum dedicated to modern art.   (I have copied portions of the exhibit labels verbatim – in italics)

Fernand Leger, 1928, There is no longer a landscape, a still life, a face. There is the image, the object [...] the useful, useless, beautiful object". For him, all objects, whether organic or inorganic, were equal.
Fernand Leger, 1928, There is no longer a landscape, a still life, a face. There is the image, the object […] the useful, useless, beautiful object”. For him, all objects, whether organic or inorganic, were equal.
Fernand does not see persons, he sees objects.  The human face is a profile to him.

Pablo Picasso, Nude Woman with Bird and Flue Player, 1967 - Towards the end of his life, Picasso frequently painted bucolic or Arcadian scenes. One often encounters a flutist courting a woman in them - a theme that had already been highly propular in Venitiian Rennaissance painting, such as in the art of Giorgione and Titan. The present picture's bucolic not can be associated with the Mediterranean, the pastoral novel, and Daphnis and Chloe, but also contains a distinct erotic allusion, which is expressed by the motif of the dove as a symbol of sexual lust.
Pablo Picasso, Nude Woman with Bird and Flute Player, 1967 – Towards the end of his life, Picasso frequently painted bucolic or Arcadian scenes. One often encounters a flutist courting a woman in them – a theme that had already been highly popular in Venitiian Renaissance painting, such as in the art of Giorgione and Titan.

I guess Picasso did not get to the countryside very often if this is his attempt at a bucolic scene.  Picasso does not seem to perceive nature at all, or the God of nature.

Pablo Picasso, Woman in a Green Hat, 1947 - I deliberately painted this crooked nose [...] so that you are forced to see a nose. Later [...] you'll recognise that it is not crooked at all. You should simply stop perceiving pretty harmonies and exquisite colours." Such portraits as the present example met with rejection and bewilderment: "If all women resembled those painted by Picasso, the earth would be depopulated by the end of the century. Men would run away at the sight of these cadaverous, greenish, amorphous, inhuman creatures.'
Pablo Picasso, Woman in a Green Hat, 1947 –  “I deliberately painted this crooked nose […] so that you are forced to see a nose. Later […] you’ll recognize that it is not crooked at all. You should simply stop perceiving pretty harmonies and exquisite colors.” Such portraits as the present example met with rejection and bewilderment: “If all women resembled those painted by Picasso, the earth would be depopulated by the end of the century. Men would run away at the sight of these cadaverous, greenish, amorphous, inhuman creatures.’
Picasso tells us that we should “stop perceiving pretty harmonies.”  Why does Picasso hate the world so much?

Bacon had his first scandalous successes in the mid-1940's, with pictures full of violence and brutality. They highlight the human figure, which seems to be exposed to the most terrible physical tortures and mutilation. Bacon preferrably displayed disfigured and decrpit bodies, with, however, simultaneously radiate vitality and aggressiveness. Although in Seated Figure the deformation of reality may have been pused to the limit, the painting does not reflect an ideal world, enclosed within a narrow black case, a man in street clothes appears to perlashing about desperately. It cannot be overlooked that his face and hands are severely inured, if not maimed. In Bacon's art, disformation and distortion are carried as far as the dissolution of form and motif. His works are essentially metaphors of the life based on the dialectics of growing and perishing, of life and death.
Bacon had his first scandalous successes in the mid-1940’s, with pictures full of violence and brutality. They highlight the human figure, which seems to be exposed to the most terrible physical tortures and mutilation. Bacon preferably displayed disfigured and decrepit bodies, with, however, simultaneously radiate vitality and aggressiveness. Although in Seated Figure the deformation of reality may have been pushed to the limit, the painting does not reflect an ideal world, enclosed within a narrow black case, a man in street clothes appears to be thrashing about desperately. It cannot be overlooked that his face and hands are severely inured, if not maimed. In Bacon’s art, disformation and distortion are carried as far as the dissolution of form and motif. His works are essentially metaphors of the life based on the dialectics of growing and perishing, of life and death.

Bacon rebels against the very forms of nature.  His art glories in the obscene and cruel.  He hears the curse, but not the promise.  He sees a world beyond redemption. I was always under the impression that this kind or art did not begin to thrive until after the WW1, after the promise of the enlightenment was shattered by mechanized warfare.  But modern art thrived well before WW1.  The apostle Paul nails it when he connects idolatry with the obscene and describes the very last stage of decadence as the embrace of what is unnatural.

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