On 3 June 2014, Herbert Boeckl (1894–1966) would have celebrated his 120th birthday. With his prolific oeuvre, spanning from the First World War to the 1960s, he ranks among the chief exponents of Austrian modernism. Besides portraits, landscapes, nudes, and still lifes, Boeckl conceived a great variety of originary motifs. Between 1928 and the time of his cerebral stroke in 1964, the artist worked in his studio at No. 42 Argentinierstraße in Vienna’s 4th district. His workplace presents itself today in its original condition, as the artist left it behind. Easels, old paint tubes, brushes, books, and other painting utensils as well as furniture can still be seen in situ.
Visitors will be able to experience for themselves the view from the studio’s window, which Herbert Boeckl captured in many pencil drawings, some of which are now kept in the Belvedere’s collections. His Large Family Portrait, for which all of the family members were obliged to pose for the artist in his studio, was also painted here. Treating the subject of family time and again until 1945, he explored his own life and that of his family through painting. A large number of works depict his offspring, which had eventually grown to nine children. He frequently captured his children in pencil and charcoal in a sketchy manner when they considered themselves unobserved. The most superb and significant of his numerous portraits represent the painter’s wife. Her portrait from the time of their engagement marks the beginning of a series that would eventually comprise many likenesses of her, as well as several self-portraits. After 1945, Boeckl did not paint any other portrait of a family member, and he only completed one more self-portrait, which dates from 1948.
The artist’s characteristic vehemence and unwillingness to compromise resulted in the development of an art that pursued a unique, highly individual aesthetic approach. The most typical features of his style are a pronounced dynamism and expressive gestures, which are encountered not only in Herbert Boeckl’s extensive painted oeuvre, but also in his countless watercolours and drawings. The unusual series of anatomy scenes from 1931 stands out as a singular example in Austrian art production. Few years later, the artist received the Grand Austrian State Prize for an altarpiece. Even in his late period, when he produced monumental paintings and tapestry designs, Boeckl set new artistic standards, arriving at a very personal interpretation of Cubism. His masterpiece of the late years is the cycle of frescoes for the Chapel of Angels in the Basilica of Seckau Abbey. Boeckl’s stance towards art and aesthetics became formative for the generation of Austrian artists after 1945.
In 1935, Herbert Boeckl received a call from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he headed a master class for painting until 1939. Between 1939 and 1964, he was in charge of the nude studies class held in the evening, the attendance of which was compulsory for all of the students, including Agathe von Auersperg, Walter Eckert, Karl Kreutzberger, Sepp Orgler, Stefan Pichler, Carl Unger, Fritz Wieser, and Grete Yppen. In 1945/46 and between 1962 and 1965, he was the Academy’s principal.
His studio was an important place of inspiration for Herbert Boeckl. Even when the windows were broken due to bomb damage, the artist unflinchingly continued working in the cold. In 1945 a visitor interested in his pictures reported: “Boeckl’s studio […] has remained undamaged, merely the panes of the tall windows have been smashed. Consequently, because of the rough weather, it is icy cold in the unheated room. Today there was a snowstorm accompanied by a biting wind. The snowflakes were dancing right into the room. Boeckl does not allow anything to keep him from working. He has stored his paintings and drawings away in the basement of the Academy of Fine Arts and therefore could only show me the panels that currently occupy him. These are the two side wings of a polyptych, which are painted on wood on both sides […]. These pictures were painted by a profound, truly pious man.”
It is owing to the artist Marie-Cécile Boog, Boeckl’s muse during his final years, that the studio has survived as it was. A sculptor and pupil of Fritz Wotruba, she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts between 1951 and 1956. After Herbert Boeckl’s death, she left everything unchanged. Thanks to the generosity of the landlord, Ingenieur Koch, it has been possible for the Belvedere to maintain the studio. The furniture and the painting utensils have carefully been restored and convey a fascinating impression of this important painter’s working environment.
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