Thursday, April 6, 2017

THE WOMAN QUESTION Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka


Galerie St. Etienne
March 14—June 30, 2017

THE WOMAN QUESTION: Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, on view at Galerie St. Etienne, March 14 - June 30, 2017, explores three Austrian masters of Modernism and their shared fixation on the female body. The artists’ works reflect turn-of-the-century Vienna’s preoccupation with gender relations, which at the time were undergoing a radical transformation. More than 65 paintings, watercolors and drawings reveal how the three artists probed and defined modern sexual identity.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Egon Schiele (1890-1918), and Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980) each approached what was then commonly referred to as the “woman question” in slightly different, albeit overlapping, ways. The exhibition focuses on four principal subjects: the formal portrait, the nude, the couple, and the mother. Klimt’s sensuous, flattering drawings of women contrast with the contorted bodies depicted by Kokoschka. Schiele’s nudes were so provocative that some could not, at the time, be publically exhibited.

Many of the works in THE WOMAN QUESTION were part of a major exhibition at Vienna’s Belvedere Museum that was curated by Jane Kallir, co-director of Galerie St. Etienne. 

The exhibition, The Women of Klimt, Schiele andKokoschka, which had a four-month run ending February 28, 2016, was one of the most popular shows in the Belvedere’s history.

In turn-of-the-century Vienna, females were viewed as closer to nature and hence more inherently “primitive” than males. Prompted by Darwin’s theories, men hypothesized that allowing women to have influence or power outside the home would lead to a dangerous “devolution” of the human species. Gustav Klimt repeatedly depicted women as amphibious creatures, as in Moving Water, 1898, an oil on canvas painting presented in THE WOMAN QUESTION. The wanton sexuality of Klimt’s nudes symbolizes not liberation but inequality.

Schiele’s nudes and semi-nudes are, arguably, the first modern women in art. Only 20 years old when he executed his first mature work, he had an adolescent’s fascination with and fear of the opposite sex. He was one of the few male artists to openly acknowledge the power of female sexuality, in the process granting his models a rare aura of autonomy. 

Egon Schiele, Reclining Woman with Green Stockings, 1917, gouache and black crayon on paper. 11 1/2” x 18 1/8"

The subject in Reclining Woman with Green Stockings, 1917, a gouache and black crayon work on paper on view during the exhibition, owns her sexuality, takes pride in her seductive body, and is empowered by her allure. 

Another highlight of THE WOMAN QUESTION is Pietà - "It is Enough," 1914, which depicts one of the most famous love affairs in the history of modern art: the ultimately doomed relationship between Oskar Kokoschka and Alma Mahler, widow of the composer Gustav Mahler. Though their passion was, in the beginning, mutual, Alma was terrorized by Oskar’s irrational jealousy and attempts to control her. When, after two-and-a-half tumultuous years, she ended the affair, the artist memorialized the event in a series of lithographs based on a Bach cantata, “O Eternity - Thou Word of Thunder” (“O Ewigkeit - Du Donnerwort”). Pieta is a charcoal on paper study for the final plate, number 11 from the cycle, and portrays Kokoschka as the dead Christ and Mahler as the Virgin Mary.

Galerie St. Etienne’s relationship with Klimt, Schiele, and Kokoschka goes back to Austria in the early 1920s. All three artists were represented by Neue Galerie, founded in Vienna by Otto Kallir, Jane Kallir’s grandfather. Soon after the Nazi invasion of Austria, Otto arrived in New York City with a small inventory in tow, eager to introduce these artists to America. He spent a lifetime nurturing their reputations with exhibitions, publications, sales, and donations to America’s top museums. Jane, along with Otto’s longtime assistant, Hildegard Bachert, has continued to specialize in Austrian Expressionism. Jane Kallir is the author of the catalogue raisonné, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, first published in 1990 and revised in 1998.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the traditional relationship between the sexes was challenged by a series of sweeping social, economic, and philosophical changes. Vienna was ground zero for the exploration of human sexuality, a prime subject for psychologists like Sigmund Freud and writers such as Arthur Schnitzler. Visual artists, too, naturally responded to this new interest in sexuality.  The incipient move toward gender parity provoked vehement counter-arguments on the part of popular theorists such as Otto Weininger. On the other hand, to the extent that both men and women wished to escape from the confining moral taboos of the 19th century, sexual liberation may be viewed as a shared goal. The more forthright acknowledgment of male and female sexual desire sent thrills and chills through early 20th-century Austrian art, infusing the work of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka with a mix of terror and exhilaration.   

About Galerie St. Etienne
Galerie St. Etienne, located at 24 West 57th Street in New York City, is the oldest gallery in the United States specializing in Expressionism and Self-Taught artists. It was established in 1939 by Otto Kallir, previously founder of the Neue Galerie in Vienna, a principal exponent of German and Austrian modernism. Galerie St. Etienne provided America with a first look at the art of Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, Alfred Kubin, Paula Modersohn-Becker and Egon Schiele. Today, its venerable standing continues under the direction of Jane Kallir, Otto’s granddaughter, and Hildegard Bachert, whose scholarship and expertise extend around the world. Jane Kallir recently curated the enormously popular show The Women of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka at the Belvedere Museum in Vienna. Galerie St. Etienne participates in the Winter Antiques Show, The ADAA Art Show, Art Basel, and the IFPDA Print Fair.


Egon Schiele, Elizabeth Lederer Seated with Hands Folded, 1913, gouache and pencil on paper, 19” x 12 3/4"

 Gustav Klimt, Moving Water, 1898. Oil on canvas, 21" x 26 1/8"

Oskar Kokoschka, Girl on Red Sofa, 1921, watercolor on machine-made Bütten paper, 26” x 19 ½”

Oskar Kokoschka, Portrait of a Woman with Hand at Chin, c. 1920-22, Charcoal on buff paper. Signed, lower right, and dedicated to Carl Moll, upper right. 27 3/4" x 19 5/8"

Egon Schiele, Crouching Woman, 1914, gouache and pencil on paper, 12 1/8" x 17 3/8"