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Oskar Kokoschka, "Portrait of Hans and Erica Tietze-Conrat," 1909, oil on canvas, 30 1/8 x 53 5/8 in. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Fund 651.1939. Photo Copyright The Museum of Modern Art, New York/Scala, Florence/Fondation Oskar Kokoschka/ DACS 2013

Currently on View: "Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900"

At the turn of the 20th century in Vienna, one rebellious group of artists -- Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka among them -- changed everything. But what would their irreverent art movement mean for the time-honored tradition of portraiture?

Anton Romako, "The Artist's Nieces, Elisabeth and Maja," 1873, oil on canvas, 36 11/16 x 31 5/16 in. © Belvedere, Vienna. Donated by Dr. Imre von Satzger, grandson of Elisabeth von Satzger, née Romako (8557)

Working at the turn of the 20th century, the artists of the Viennese Secession indelibly marked the art that would be produced over the next century. The work of Klimt, Schiele, and their contemporaries incited a shift toward Modern aesthetics that will forever be connected to fin-de-siecle Vienna. A new exhibition at London's National Gallery asks how this Modern sensibility manifested in contemporary portraiture, asserting the significance of this seemingly traditional genre to the Secessionists. On view now, "Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900" is an innovative exhibition that correctly treats portraiture as an important subset of Viennese Modern art.

Egon Schiele, "Portrait of Albert Paris von Gütersloh," 1918, oil on canvas, 55 1/8 x  43 7/16 in. © The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota. Gift of the P.D. McMillan Land Company

Arnold Schönberg, "Blue Self Portrait," 1910, oil on three-ply panel, 12 1/4 x 9 in. Belmont Music Publishers, Pacific Palisades/CA. Courtesy Arnold Schönberg Center (CR11) © Arnold Schönberg Center, Vienna/DACS 2013
"Facing the Modern" features works from the most prominent artists working in early 20th-century Vienna: Gustav Klimt, Anton Romako, Oskar Kokoschka, Arnold Schönberg, Richard Gerstl, and Egon Schiele. The exhibition focuses on the years up to 1918, by which time the First World War had ended, the Austro-Hungarian Empire had collapsed, and both Klimt and Schiele had died. From the last years of the 19th century up to that point, Vienna saw an unprecedented flowering of innovative and challenging art. From Klimt's distinctive, decorative, and seductive paintings of women to Schiele's brutal self-portraits, the new art displayed a radically different aesthetic and a newly open psychology. "Facing the Modern" also demonstrates that the artists of the Viennese Secession maintained certain elements of the established, 19th-century academic tradition while discarding others and taking Viennese art in unforeseen directions.

Gustav Klimt, "Portrait of a Lady in Black," ca. 1894, oil on canvas, 61 x 29 1/2 in. © Belvedere, Vienna, Loan from a private collection

Artworks from the National Gallery will be joined by international loans from the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and other public and private collections worldwide for this very significant exhibition. Students of any era's portraiture will not want to miss it.
"Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900" will be on view through January 12, 2014 at the National Gallery in London. To learn more, visit

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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