Nuda Veritas. Gustav Klimt and the Origins of the Vienna Secession 1895–1905

- 23 September 2010 – 9 January 2011

The Museum of Fine Arts will stage an exhibition of the outstanding works dating from the early period of the Vienna Secession with Gustav Klimt as its emblematic figure. The core material of the two hundred or so pieces, mainly drawings and prints, is formed by the works from the collection of the Albertina in Vienna, complemented by drawings and some excellent paintings from Austrian, American and Japanese public and private collections. The exhibition will also include pieces from the Museum of Fine Arts’ own collection: works by the various members of the Secession group and pieces by foreign contemporary artists who once exerted great influence on them.

Nuda Veritas“Nuda Veritas. Gustav Klimt and the Origins of the Vienna Secession 1895–1905” forms part of the series launched by the Museum of Fine Arts to provide a comprehensive picture of the development of Modern art. Following previous exhibitions about Gustave Moreau, Alfons Mucha, Ferdinand Hodler, and the show Degas to Picasso, “Nuda Veritas” also provides an overview of an important chapter in the renewal of the fine arts from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century.
The early years of the Vienna Secession can be regarded as the most fascinating and diversely influential period in the history of art in Austria. This brief but all the more intense period is clearly defined by dates: it began on 3 April in 1897 with the formation of the Union of Austrian Artists (Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreich), also known as the Vienna Secession, and its end is marked by the separation of the Klimt Group from the union on 14 June 1905. Over the course of a few years, starting in March 1898, the members mounted twenty-three exhibitions, representing the milestones of the early history of the Secession, which it was possible to reconstruct with the help of contemporaneous photographs and written records. The “golden era” was characterised by an inspired and intense activity, faithfully documented by the six volumes published until 1903 of Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), the highly informative publication of the Vienna Secession executed at a high artistic standard. In addition, the exhibition posters and individually designed catalogues are similarly valuable sources of the art group’s history.
The most striking feature of the early years is a radicalism manifest in the work of each artist – most especially Klimt – as well as in the development of the group. This is apparent in a diverse way, ranging from style, taste, and a change in approach to the international art scene, to programmatic self-representation and the didactic teachings of their texts. At the same time, the language and criteria of evaluation used by the art critics – often referred to as “fellow fighters” – were also continuously changing. The concept of the present exhibition and the selection of the works were based on our search to identify the reasons for this radicalism, as was our intention to present the “young” Secession in its historical development.
The exhibition seeks to display a rich selection of this artistically productive period mainly through prints and drawings but will also include the genres of painting and sculpture through some crucially important works. The ten years will be introduced by those works that the artists who played a main role in the foundation of the Secession group (Gustav Klimt, Josef Engelhart, Maximilian Lenz, Alfred Roller, Kolo Moser) and art groups (Hagen Circle, Club of Seven) produced prior to 1897. The period portrayed by the exhibition virtually signifies the birth of Modern art in Vienna and will be broken down into several chapters: a separate section will be devoted to the overture of the Secession, marked by the year 1898, the most active in the history of the group, as well as to the illustration activity connected to Ver Sacrum. The spiritual leader and first president of the Vienna Secession, Gustav Klimt, will be accorded a highlighted place in the exhibition, which will not only display his significant paintings, such as Nuda Veritas – “naked truth”, included in the title of the exhibition, but also a group of his drawings evocative of a work that has not survived but which represented an important phase of his artistic career: the three murals symbolising the faculties of the University of Vienna. The preparations made for the Beethoven frieze of 1902 will be documented through numerous excellent sketches, and drawings revealing a sensitive artist will provide an insight into Klimt’s portraits. His erotic drawings that challenged a taboo at the time were made as preparatory works for his painting Water Snakes II. An individual chapter will be devoted to the Beethoven exhibition of 1902, the culmination of the era’s ambition to create total art. A separate section will focus on how the sudden popularity of the woodcut – reintroduced by the Secession by Ferdinand Andri, Carl Moll, Kolo Moser and Emil Orlik, among others – made the group an important agent in the Modern revival of the genre.
One of the ambitions of the Secession was to acquaint the Viennese public with the best of contemporary foreign art, which provided the international context for their work. The Budapest exhibition will, therefore, include a selection of the diverse collection of prints and drawings from the Albertina in Vienna and the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest – works by Edgar Degas, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Paul Gauguin, Max Klinger, Ludwig von Hofmann, Aubrey Beardsley, James McNeill Whistler, Jan Toorop, Edvard Munch and Ferdinand Hodler – in the same vein. A work of special interest is Angel of Life by Giovanni Segantini, which was received with great success at the exhibition of the Secession at the time and was purchased by the Museum of Fine Arts in 1901.
“Nuda Veritas. Gustav Klimt and the Origins of the Vienna Secession 1895–1905” seeks to present a comprehensive picture about the birth of the Secession and the first years of its golden era. Worthy of the high standards set by the previous, prominent shows it staged, the Museum of Fine Arts temporarily bids farewell to visitors with an exhibition of masterpieces by the key figures of the Secession. According to plans, the Museum of Fine Arts will be closed from January 2011 while a major development aimed at the extension of the institution is carried out.

The curator of the exhibition: Marian Bisanz-Prakken, art historian at the Albertina in Vienna; co-curators in Budapest: Zsuzsa Gonda and Kata Bodor, art historians at the Department of Prints and Drawings of the Museum of Fine Arts.

The exhibition is sponsored by the Deutsche Bank. Partner organisation: Kempinski Hotel Corvinus


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