Is Realism really true to life? What are the common traits of Realism over the course of decades? The new special exhibition at the Upper Belvedere covers a period spanning the mid-19th century to the 1950s and reveals the multifaceted nature of an artistic approach that began as a mirror of its social environment. To this day, works with realistic tendencies continue to inspire through their impressive painting techniques and diversity of subject matter.
Curated by Kerstin Jesse and Franz Smola.
The exhibition True to Life was conceived following a foray through the Belvedere's collection. In this process of discovery, works from the mid-19th century to the 1950s devoted to the realistic representation of various subject matters were unearthed, and this selection of works is now being presented in illuminating juxtaposition. What characteristic features and themes emerge from the various Realist orientations over this period? To answer this question, works of art from different eras have been brought into dialogue with one another. The show presents rarely exhibited paintings characterized by their verisimilitude. In many cases, this likeness to the real world is achieved through meticulous detail in the painting technique. Looking at what appears to be "real" also brings into focus the socio-analytical content of some of the works: realistic subjects, thus, also reflect social and societal realities.
The spectrum ranges from familiar genres, such as portraiture and still life, to highly complex issues such as the instrumentalization of realistic painting for political and social purposes. The large number of seldom-seen paintings includes Édouard Frédéric Wilhelm Richter's Portrait of an Oriental Woman (c. 1875); Emanuel Baschny's Man Reading (1905); Erich Miller-Hauenfels' Courtyard among Urban Houses (1934); and Gustav Klimt's Portrait of Mathilde Trau (c. 1893), which has been on permanent loan at the Belvedere since 2019.