“The Self-Portrait: From Schiele To Beckmann” Exhibition

Neue Galerie

poster for “The Self-Portrait: From Schiele To Beckmann” Exhibition
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Neue Galerie New York will debut “The Self-Portrait: From Schiele to Beckmann,” an unprecedented exhibition that examines works primarily from Austria and Germany made between 1900 and 1945. This groundbreaking show is unique in its examination and focus on works of this period. Approximately 70 self-portraits by more than 30 artists—both well-known figures and others who deserve greater recognition—will be united in the presentation, which is comprised of loans from public and private collections worldwide.

Admired for their revelatory nature, self-portraits yield insight into both the appearance and the essence of the artist, in some cases providing almost confessional portrayals, sharing profound insights regarding their self-image as a maker, and their perceived relationship to society. On a more universal level, they can also expose deeper truths about the human condition. During the first four decades of the twentieth century, the self-portrait, a genre that has transcended the ages, reached new heights in Germany and Austria.

Among artists in the Neue Galerie collection, the types of self-portraiture vary widely. Egon Schiele, gazing into a large studio mirror, created an unprecedented number of raw, even shocking self-portraits composed only of his face and body. He stripped away layers of social conventions to expose thoughts and feelings beneath the surface of his skin. Max Beckmann found his stride using an open, brushy style with heavy black outlines, and created some of the greatest self-portraits of the twentieth century; they possess an expressive power that reaches back to the Old Masters. Felix Nussbaum—employing the more realistic style of the Neue Sachlichkeit—reflected the misery of and threat to his life as a persecuted Jew, as well as his personal resolve to record his circumstances faithfully. Some of the most outstanding self-portraits in this exhibition are by women, including Paula Modersohn-Becker, who painted a number of bold, groundbreaking self-portraits, some of which highlighted her pregnancy; and Käthe Kollwitz, who cast an unsparing eye on her own world-weary visage. The best of these works always engage the viewer in a complex and meaningful way.

Egon Schiele and Max Beckmann, two leading figures of modernism, bookmark the exhibition. Schiele is arguably without peer in creating cardinal self-portraits, particularly in his obsessive engagement with his own mirror reflections. Through such works he elevated the genre of the self-portrait to unprecedented heights. Self-portraiture was such an integral focus of his oeuvre that his own image became a leitmotif that spans his career, which was cut short when he succumbed to the 1918 influenza pandemic at the age of twenty-eight. The essence of Schiele’s contribution to the tradition of self-portraiture consisted of seeking out the “mysterious substances” of which he was made. Navigating between “provocation and melancholy,” Schiele pursued the diverse and contradictory manifestations of his own being. As he confessed, “I lust to experience everything.”

In Schiele’s persistent concentration on his own self-image he is comparable in the twentieth century only to the artist Max Beckmann. Beckmann, who was born six years earlier than Schiele, explored in his own work the distinct “individuality of the soul.” He was searching for what he called that “true self, of which we are but a pale reflection.” He favored self-portraits in which he depicted himself in a variety of roles, often in enigmatic guises and settings. They are sometimes grounded in actual experience and make reference to the tumultuous historical period in which he lived and worked. Beckmann’s self-portraits illustrate clearly the process of will formation and self-assertion he passed through between the empire, the Weimar Republic, dictatorship, and exile. Self-Portrait in front of Red Curtain (1923) shows an aspiring but not yet established artist. Later, Self-Portrait with Horn, which Beckmann began in 1933 in Berlin, and reworked in 1938 while in exile in Amsterdam, demonstrates a transformation. As the work was painted, the canvas grew more shadowy and dark, from a smiling and pointing artist to a melancholy and waiting one. The circumstances had changed, and the painter Beckmann was existentially threatened; the National Socialists were gradually destroying his career in Germany.

Self-portraiture is a process of self-stylization, an artist rendering his own face an icon. This means of artistic expression finds its prototypes in the works of the Old Masters, a topic explored in “The Self-Portrait: From Schiele to Beckmann” through a presentation of works by Rembrandt van Rijn, an early copy after Albrecht Dürer by Johann Christian Ruprecht, Hans von Achen, and Anton Raphael Mengs. The exhibition includes masterworks on loan from The Morgan Library & Museum, Kunsthistorisches Museum, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rembrandt, the epitome of the Old Master, is regarded as the self-stager par excellence, and the exhibition includes an exceptional range of Rembrandt’s self-portrait etchings, which span his career and convey how his personal perspective of himself evolved over the course of his lifetime. This mode of elevating one’s own artistry became canonic and led to numerous successors. Mengs’s Neoclassicism, for instance, can be traced back to it.

Extending beyond Schiele and Beckmann, the exhibition includes iconic self-portraits from a range of contemporaries. Highlights include works by Otto Dix, such as Self-Portrait at Easel (1926). Dix painted this after World War I, and his fierce expression and the starkly realistic style of the portrait reflect his unflinching approach to portray German society in the wake of the conflict and its toll costing millions of lives. An especially poignant self-portrait by Felix Nussbaum, Self-Portrait with Jewish Identity Card (ca. 1943), depicts the artist’s experience in a harried, hopeless situation. His coat collar turned up and his Star of David visible, Nussbaum is showing his identity card, upon which his name and signature are visible, as is the ID photograph. The indication of his birthplace, Osnabrück, is blurry; his nationality is given as “sans” (none). “Juif-Jood” in capital letters is stamped diagonally across his passport. Nussbaum continued to paint self-portraits that depict his experience as a persecuted Jew until shortly before he was arrested and deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was murdered in August 1944.

While uncommon during the period, women artists are also represented in the exhibition. Most notably, this marks the first time that the Neue Galerie will present Paula Modersohn-Becker’s Self-Portrait with Two Flowers in Her Raised Left Hand (1907), a recent joint acquisition with The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Modersohn-Becker struck out on her own as a young woman, and this portrait presents a confident figure. “The Self-Portrait: From Schiele to Beckmann” will also exhibit Modersohn-Becker’s revolutionary Self-Portrait on Her Sixth Wedding Anniversary (1906), one of the first known nude self-portraits by a woman. Created four centuries after Albrecht Dürer portrayed himself as a semi-nude Christ figure, the present work symbolically depicts the artist as pregnant, modeled on the Maria Gravida (Pregnant Virgin). The exhibition also features poignant self-portraiture by contemporaneous female artists, including Hannah Höch, Grethe Jürgens, and Käthe Kollwitz.

In each portrait in the exhibition, the viewer is offered a window to understand the artist more than in any of their other works. In their paintings of other genres, the intellect of the artist is presented, but in self-portraiture, souls are laid bare.

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Schedule

from February 28, 2019 to June 24, 2019

Website

http://www.neuegalerie.org (venue's website)

Fee

Adults $20, Students and Seniors $10

Venue Hours

From 11:00 To 18:00
Closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays

Access

Address: 1048 5th Ave., New York, NY 10028
Phone: 212-628-6200 Fax: 212-628-8824

Corner of 86th St. Subway: 4/5/6 to 86th Street

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