Daily life on the streets of Vienna, violent riots in Belfast, the hustle and bustle of a station, dancers in a club—Georg Eisler’s images were inspired by life itself. Personal diaries and workbooks shine a light on this Viennese artist who struggled tirelessly to capture such memorable moments in a spontaneous and effortless fashion. This IN-SIGHT exhibition at the Upper Belvedere demonstrates how compellingly and enduringly he achieved this.
Since the beginning of 2018, the Belvedere has been working on a catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work in collaboration with the Georg and Alice Eisler Fund for Artists and Composers.
Curated by Kerstin Jesse.
Some of the images in the exhibition may be disturbing as they show sensitive content such as violence, death, and depictions of sex work.
The show places a focus on the sometimes explosive themes of Georg Eisler’s images that testify to the artist’s critical analysis of the everyday, the political, and the social. Eisler worked tirelessly on his trenchant depictions that hold a lasting fascination to this day.
“To make visible the intervening spaces, the perspectival, emotional, and psychological spaces between figure and figure,” was how Georg Eisler described his artistic approach in 1963. Nevertheless, transforming the visible world into his unmistakable pictorial language, expressed in fluid and loose brushwork, always remained a challenge to the artist. This is reflected in his personal writings from 1962 through to 1997, which are the starting point for this IN-SIGHT exhibition and provide unfiltered glimpses of the artist’s thoughts and creative process.
Eisler placed human beings at the very heart of his work and his critical engagement with their characters and their relationship to their environment guided his choice of subject matter. The artist’s powerful images remain as topical as ever today.
Georg Eisler was born on 20 April 1928, the only son of the well-known composer Hanns Eisler (1898-1962) and the vocalist and voice teacher Charlotte Eisler (1894–1970). His parents divorced when he was seven years old. In 1936 he moved with his mother to Moscow; in 1938 he was prevented from returning to Vienna and stayed in Prague; in 1939, he fled into exile via Poland and Gothenburg to England, with stops in Birmingham, Manchester, and London. In 1942 he became friends with Erich Fried. In 1944 he met Oskar Kokoschka and participated for the first time in an exhibition of Austrian art at London's Foyle's Art Gallery. After a first solo exhibition in Manchester in March 1946, the 18-year-old returned in September to a Vienna in ruins. He attended Herbert Boeckl's "Abendakt" [evening nude drawing class], making the acquaintance of Alfred Hrdlicka, Rudolf Schönwald, and Fritz Martinz. To earn a living he took on various side jobs, but was nevertheless heavily involved in painting and traveled to Italy, Holland, France, Germany, and England, among other places. In 1958 he had his first solo exhibition in Vienna at the Wolfrum Gallery; his exhibition activities continued to expand, including internationally. The first Eisler monograph, written by Erich Fried and Ernst Köller, was published in 1964. In 1965 he won the Austrian State Prize for Painting. In 1966, he married the lawyer Alice Gerson (1930–2011). From 1968 to 1972 he was president of the Vienna Secession. In 1970 he began various teaching activities, which also took him to the USA; in the same year, a monograph/catalogue raisonné was published by Otto Breicha. In 1971 he received the Prize of the City of Vienna for Painting, and in 1974, the Austrian Medal for Science and Art. He participated in the Venice Biennale in 1982 and began a long friendship with the French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. In 1997 he co-organized a comprehensive retrospective at the Upper Belvedere. On 15 January 1998, Georg Eisler succumbed to cancer; he was buried in a grave of honor by the City of Vienna.
IN-SIGHT is a series of exhibitions at the Upper Belvedere that spotlight specific aspects of the Belvedere’s collection, analyzing and exhibiting artworks from fresh curatorial perspectives.