The Belvedere is devoting the thirteenth Masterpieces in Focus exhibition to the Viennese artist Gerhart Frankl (1901–1965), who, like his idol Paul Cézanne, sought to create something of lasting significance. In 1925 Frankl wrote to his future wife: “I don’t want to be a ‘famous’ man. […] But I do want to be a truly great person. Totally and utterly responsible. That is essential. […] I don’t want to be a firework, but at every moment to have a clear conscience.” Although largely self-taught – only studying with Anton Kolig in Nötsch during the summers from 1920 to 1922 – he produced a tremendously varied and fascinating oeuvre, with many shifts in style and subject matter. His immaterial representations of the Alps from his late career are some of the highlights in his art. From 18 November 2015 to 3 April 2016 the exhibition Gerhart Frankl – Restless at the Upper Belvedere will focus on the evolution of his landscapes that culminated in his form-dissolving Mountain Fantasies. The show also explores the artist’s close ties with the Belvedere. On returning from exile in London, Frankl and his wife lived in the Lower Belvedere from 1947 and he also worked in the museum’s conservation studios. The artist’s exploration of the Baroque setting surrounding the two palaces and the view over Vienna found expression in a series he created between 1947 and 1949.
The special occasion behind this exhibition is the Belvedere’s acquisition of a large group of works by Gerhart Frankl, bequeathed to the museum by the collector Peter Parzer in 2012. Peter Parzer had been interested in Frankl’s work even as a student.
In addition to Cézanne, Old Masters such as Titian and Rubens all loomed large in Frankl’s art. Yet his work also contains Expressionist and Cubist elements and both abstract and naturalistic studies. Approximately two-thirds of his oeuvre comprises works on paper, one of Frankl’s favourite mediums that provided him with a platform for free expression. Frankl developed his own mixed media of pastels, gouache and sometimes charcoal to capture his personal experiences in the mountains. Landscapes and views of the Alps appear even in Frankl’s early work and form an almost consistent thread through his oeuvre. With their distance from daily life, detachment from space and time, and sense of freedom, the mountains were a magical paradise in the artist’s eyes. A passionate motorcyclist and alpinist, he toured the Dolomites on his BMW with his future wife Christine Büringer, who was the niece of the painter Sebastian Isepp from the Nötsch Circle. From 1949, they would set out from London on a Triumph Contessa. This sense of freedom on two wheels, zooming along winding Alpine roads surrounded by magnificent and sublime nature shines through especially in his late images of mountains.
Frankl was determined to become reestablished in Vienna again and rekindled his social network both in his professional and personal life. He held lectures, applied for the post of professor at the academy, became a member of the advisory or exchange commission at the Österreichische Galerie and acted as artistic director of the Fourth International Summer Seminar of the Austrian College Society in Alpbach in 1948. In spite of his busy schedule and all the bureaucratic hurdles to contend with, Frankl was very prolific during these sixteen months in Vienna. His Belvedere series in particular stands out on account of its diversity in form and style. This Baroque setting fired Frankl’s imagination and inspired an intensive creative process. The series comprises six canvases and over forty studies, drawings, and watercolours with prominent emphasis given to the view over Vienna and sculptural subjects. In this series Frankl also made an intensive study of the cubist and constructivist elements culminating in his painting Vienna III.
In October 2015, the Gerhart Frankl Memorial Trust, with Julian Sofaer as trustee, was dissolved in keeping with the wishes and will of Christine Frankl and all of the paintings were given to the Belvedere. The Belvedere greatly appreciates this outstanding acquisition and now holds the largest collection of canvases by the artist as a result. Although during his lifetime Gerhart Frankl was deprived of resettling in his home city Vienna after the war, he is now returning in the form of his oeuvre.
Exhibitions within the series Masterpieces in Focus are made possible thanks to the Dorotheum’s generous support.