The art of Richard Gerstl marks the beginning of the Expressionist movement in Austria. Excessive emotionality is not only conveyed through colour and brushwork, but also through a psychological approach to subject matter. In its dual relationship between observation and expression, his oeuvre is related to that of Edvard Munch.
Analytical observation and self-inspection also characterize the paintings by Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, and Max Oppenheimer. In their self-portraits, they frequently present themselves as sufferers, thereby documenting their special interest in psychological conditions. Whereas the Expressionism of the Brücke artists is dominated by an emotionalization of colour and of the application of paint, it is the precise observation of psychological conditions that determines the degree of expressivity in the art of Austrian painters. By holding on to linearity and rigid outlines, they also continued employing elements of Secessionist art.
Anton Hanak is undoubtedly one of the most important sculptors of the twentieth century in Austria. His work, influenced by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, ranges from small figural sketches to huge figures for façades and monuments. In Hanak’s sculptures, which bear such titles as The Last Man, symbolical references to Secessionist art remain recognizable. However, both the high degree of psychologization and the gestural pathos and elongation of the body are already suggestive of the new, expressive approach to art.
Besides examples of Austrian Expressionist painting, the Belvedere also holds outstanding masterpieces of German Expressionism, including works by the members of the Brücke group, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, and Emil Nolde, as well as portraits by Alexej Jawlensky. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, one of the chief exponents of German Expressionism and a leading personality within the Brücke group, which he co-founded in 1905, is represented in the collection with the work The Klosters Mountains (1923). As a further important representative of the Expressionist movement, Max Pechstein joined the group, which had been established by Kirchner, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, in 1906. Outstanding permanent loans from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection complement and expand the Belvedere’s holdings of Expressionist art. And thanks to the loans from the Ars Bohemiae Foundation – The Rotter Collection, Czech art from the first half of the twentieth century is also impressively displayed and conveyed.
In 1912, Pechstein painted his Still Life with Apples and Bananas. Similar to Pechstein, Emil Nolde also employed flatly applied paint as a means of expression. Following Nolde’s brief affiliation with the Brücke, he created his first religious paintings, including Joseph Relating His Dreams (1910). The Russian-born painter Alexej Jawlensky, who lived in Munich, was in close contact with the Blauer Reiter group, due to his personal relationship with Wassily Kandinsky. He drew the inspirations for his powerful colour combinations from Russian folk art and such French Fauvists as Henri Matisse, as is betrayed by Jawlensky’s Portrait of a Lady (1908). The delicately built bust of a Kneeling Figure (1913) by the sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck shows a high degree of expressive internalization and illustrates the artist’s affinity for Expressionism.
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