It’s All About the Process, Klimt and Schiele

It’s All About the Process, Klimt and Schiele

Written By Arielle Greenspan

Showcasing the works of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele, the Museum of Fine Arts’ new exhibit, “Klimt and Schiele: Drawn,” showcases the close student-mentor relationship between the two Austrian artists. The exhibit displays how the artists influenced each other, as well as how they developed their own unique styles that straddled the line between realism and expressionism.

“Klimt and Schiele: Drawn” focuses not on the success of these two landmark artists, but rather on the road they took to reach their final products. There are hardly any finished works displayed; the absence of famed paintings such as Klimt’s “The Kiss” and Schiele’s “Self Portrait” are glaringly obvious. However, this is not the result of poor planning, but rather the point of the exhibit itself. While beautiful, the finished works of both Klimt and Schiele do not tell the story of the artists. Instead, the incomplete pencil drawings and watercolors on display enhance feelings not only for the artwork, but for the artists as human beings. These unfinished works provide insight into the working minds of these creative geniuses who, unfortunately, are no longer around to answer any questions we may want to ask them. Both Schiele and Klimt were struck down by the Spanish Influenza in 1918 at a young age and their unfinished works act as a diary of sorts – a glimpse into their brief lives.

The exhibit is divided between the two artists, with all of Klimt’s work on one side of the room and all of Schiele’s on the other. Because of this setup, one is able to make acute observations about one of the artist’s style, which is disrupted when they reach the other artist’s work. You may find yourself admiring Klimt’s defined jawlines and neat, minimally defined bodies, and all of a sudden transition to mangled and ill-defined forms. Schiele may have worked closely and been mentored by Klimt, but his art is very different.

Their relationship began in 1907 when a young Schiele – then still a student at the Viennese Academy of Fine Arts – sought out Klimt’s help after becoming frustrated with his school’s rigid, traditional style. Klimt took him as a protege, exposing Schiele to other German and Austrian Expressionists, including Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck.  The works of these other artists inspired him to explore the stylized, twisted bodies of those who are physically free but mentally imprisoned. While the two developed and maintained their own unique styles, it is clear that this bond inspired both artists.

Both Klimt and Schiele played with the natural form, often sketching nude models. Many of the works in the exhibit show how they focused on the curves and lines as the body twisted into unnatural, uncomfortable shapes. However, the difference between the two artists can be seen in how each one chose to express emotion. The emotion in Klimt’s art is displayed through body language, and Schiele expresses emotion in his work directly through the subject’s face – eyes that gaze into yours, lips on the verge of revealing a deep secret; the knotted and twisted limbs only adding to the uncomfortable features. Schiele’s “Boy With a Long Coat” (1910) is evidence of such. With his curving torso and limbs, only the young boy’s eyes and lips face directly forward. He smirks cheekily at the viewer as if he knows something that he isn’t supposed to. Furthermore, the boy covers his one visible ear with his hands, blocking out any and all noise around him.

Klimt experimented with a minimal use of lines and his; drawings look as if he put in the time and care into each pencil stroke, whereas Schiele’s drawings seem to have been hurriedly rushed out onto his paper. As seen in his 1916 portrait of Albert Paris Gutersloh, Klimt uses just a few well-placed lines to prominently define the body and its features and expressions — everything else is filled in with watercolors.

Both Klimt and Schiele were artists known for eliminating the possibility of having a completely straight, defined line. They did this not only in their artwork, but in society as well, as the artists refused to conform to one particular style of art, and pushed the boundaries of what was considered appropriate to display at the time. The drawings and sketches on display at the MFA map out the journey they took as they strayed further and further from traditional, realistic styles. Klimt and Schiele were, undoubtedly, uniquely their own. The exhibit is on display at the MFA until May 28.

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