Royal Academy of Arts, London
On until 3rd February 2019
I am writing this after my second visit to the Klimt/Schiele exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. I was with a friend during my first visit and I only had an hour, which allowed me to see three out of the five rooms. Today I spent another hour seeing the last two rooms and re-examining my favourite drawings. And it was well worth it, as in the two weeks between my visits I managed to gather a lot more context from Dr Richard Stemp at one of London Art Studies events (I found them in an article on the Financial Times, they are great!).
"What a handsome man! I wish Klimt had done self-portraits (I really want to write self-portraits of himself…)."
Now on to the actual exhibition. I arrive to be greeted by a beautiful photograph of Gustav Klimt in his late 40s taken by Moritz Nahr. What a handsome man! I wish he’d done self-portraits (I really want to write self-portraits of himself…). The first room is all about context with photographs of Klimt and Schiele and some examples of their works. I am astounded by two works in this room, conveniently, one by each artist. The first is Studies of Romeo Reclining and a Man in Profil Perdu for Shakespeare Theatre done in 1886-87 by Klimt. Despite most of Klimt’s drawings in this exhibition being “studies” for larger works, to me this drawing is a work in itself. It was a teaching in perspective and detail, and it really showcased Klimt’s skill - and why he is raved as one of Austria’s best artists. A couple of works to the right of this one there is a beautiful Reclining Female Nude made by Egon Schiele when he was all of18 years old! A truly amazing work and you can see Klimt’s influence on the teenage Schiele.
The second room explores Klimt’s process. It’s an interesting room and I personally found it very appealing and ended up spending the majority of my time here during my first visit. But if you are rushed for time, I can totally see how the drawings in this room (mostly studies) can be overshadowed by Egon’s colourfully painted works in the subsequent room (which you can partially see from this room). I was especially taken by a small drawing called Standing Lovers which reminded me of Klimt’s most famous oeuvre The Kiss. The drawings notes assured me that they were not studies for that but “a work in its own right”. What I found a little frustrating about this room was that, during my first visit to the exhibition, I wasn’t familiar with the works the studies were made for. I learnt that later (London Arts Studies again!) just in time for my second visit.
"What I found a little frustrating about this room was that I wasn’t familiar with the works the studies were made for."
The third room is titled Schiele’s Process. It looks like they named it that for symmetry more than anything else. It doesn’t really feel like Schiele’s process in the same way that the previous room is clearly Klimt’s process as it shows Klimt’s idea being developed through drawings before he does the final work (not that I knew what the final work looked like at the time). This room, on the other hand, is not that. They are mostly final works by Schiele. The room feels really bitty. There is little that holds the works together other than being by the same artist. There is one wall with five works that Egon did during his short stint (less than a month) in prison in 1912. They are mostly still life, if we can call it that as Schiele tried to give the objects life and movement (at least with the titles). This room is almost unnecessary. It at least could have been contextualised in a better way.
Moving swiftly to a room that was divided into two halves: Portraits. The first half is dedicated to Klimt and once again is full of drawings that are studies for other works. I was in absolute awe of a portrait (“a work in its own right”) that looks almost like a photograph. Titled Lady with Cape and Hat this works shows just how much Klimt could do using only black chalk and paper. My absolute favourite part of the exhibition was the second half of this room, which had only works by Schiele, and not one but nine astonishing self-portraits - with a few of them in peculiar positions. I couldn’t help but wonder how he drew himself squatting, naked and with his trousers at his ankles. For the curious people like me: he had a few mirrors in his studio. I spent several minutes looking at this work (yes the squatting one!). No selfies here (pun almost intended). The entire exhibition is worth it just for these self-portraits. There is a lot more to see, of course, which makes it great value for money.
"I couldn’t help but wonder how he drew himself squatting, naked and with his trousers at his ankles."
The fifth and final room explores the Erotic Figure with works by both artists. I think the way the works were hung gave an unfair advantage to Schiele. His use of colour really draws the viewer in and somehow outshines Klimt’s interesting drawings where masturbating and homosexual women are depicted. I think what this room wanted to bring to the fore is the way that both artists have explored taboo concepts (such as eroticism, homosexuality and masturbation) in their works that were not done until then.
Schiele at half Klimt’s age and both dead in the same year.