As often happens with me, my words fall short in describing why certain works of visual art so appeal to me. I suppose this has something to do with tAs often happens with me, my words fall short in describing why certain works of visual art so appeal to me. I suppose this has something to do with the limits of language and the sublime, but it also has to do with failings on my part of making the extended effort to connect immediate sensation and my reflections through words, which should be able to hold these impressions. I often escape the mundanity of my job at the National Archives by stealing an hour here and there and immersing myself in beloved rooms at the National Gallery (it is free, it is usually open, it is full of beautiful things and a shimmering quietness) - the Cezanne room, the Impressionists, the three different pieces they have of Monet’s Rouen Cathedral series, side-by-side in a gallery tucked away toward the back of the east wing of the main building, ripe for long looking and thinking of the minute changes daylight, weather, and time play on a specific place. Monet’s Woman with a Parasol whose whole being seems about to be dissolved in wind with her surroundings. The Rothkos that pulse and look back into me (though maybe for that reason specifically I don’t revisit them as often.) Turner’s waterscapes which are storm-wracked slumbers lit by an ancient light, obscured by the sun or moon’s distance from the events on the canvas, and the interference of elements unfolding upon the small world... In the center of a siren-bewailed city, where preened and suited careerists talk endless economic dystopian noise at the cafes, where gadgets chirp and adhere to numb faces, and the homeless suffer openly under all of it, I come here and am refreshed. I’m taken away. Often when I leave the gallery after even a short period of looking at paintings, the outside world has again accumulated a cheeriness, an aesthetic order, a hum of hope.
There are no Schieles on display at the National Gallery. I’ve seen his works elsewhere, but I can only revisit his work in books. Luckily, there are a number of beautiful, careful productions one can acquire, two of which I did recently at the National Gallery’s bookstore. His absurdly brief and talented life - a recounting of which can be found in the first half of this gorgeous book - was almost at all times steeped in troubles and controversy. Mentored by Klimt, (whose influence is probably the most evident in his works - the line, the coloring, the geometry strained out of any realism, the almost stained glass effect), Schiele was as a young man accused of incestuous tendencies, lost his father to syphillis when he was 15, entered the Akademie at 16, at 22 was put on trial for seducing an underage girl, then again on accusation of pornography when his studio was raided, he was briefly imprisoned. Eventually he married and three days after his wedding he was conscripted into WWI (where he was permitted to paint portraits of Russian officers during his service in Prague). When the Spanish flu epidemic reached Vienna, both Schiele and his pregnant wife died three days apart. He was 28.
This book is a collection of his landscapes, to my mind some of his most appealing work, despite being overshadowed by his famous nude grotesques and sickly self-portraits. Presented chronologically, one can see how startlingly talented Schiele was from the beginning of his career. At 16 he was already able to produce images such as these trees mirrored in water:
or this Cezanne-like landscape
The reproductions here are gorgeous, and each print is given context and minimal description, and many are even accompanied by photographs of the places Schiele painted.
Over time he matured into what is now recognized as signature Schiele, and one can identify the idiosyncratic style of his portraiture at work in how he sets down landscapes, buildings, towns, rivers - the deeply expressive line, twisting forms, a sense of perceptual displacement, flattened perspective, and highly stylized coloring, as I said before, often reminiscent of stained glass or mosaic.
One of my favorites, Woodland Prayer
But where I believe the most strangely beautiful and enigmatically appealing elements in Schiele come to be shown are in his paintings of trees and sky:
While going through my library when moving, I realized I have all the Shakespeare Everyman's Library editions. They are the most loveliest of books. TWhile going through my library when moving, I realized I have all the Shakespeare Everyman's Library editions. They are the most loveliest of books. Treasures. (Just filling in my books here on GR, no need to *like* this non-review...)...more