"Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele and Picasso from the Thayer collection"
“Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele and Picasso from the Thayer collection” at the Met Breuer presents some 50 erotic and evocative watercolors, drawings, and prints by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Pablo Picasso from the Metropolitan's Schofield Thayer collection.
In this exhibition, we see how three artists handled the topic of sex. For each, it was a topic that was a central focus of their work. Of course, their views have been filtered by the selections made by the collector in purchasing the works. However, considering the number of works included in the collection by each artist, the collection can be considered to be representational of the artists' views.
Gustav Klimt was an Austrian artist in the late 19th century, early 20th century. At first, his works were conventional architectural decoration but he became a leader in the avant garde Vienna Secession.
The focus of much of Klimt's work was the female figure. His sensual paintings sometimes incorporating gold leaf designs along with human figures are well-known. However, Klimt also made some 4,000 drawings. Some were in preparation for paintings but others were what he regarded as a diary.
Like his paintings, the subject of Klimt's drawings was often women. However, his nudes were not classical poses but rather included figures making love and masturbating.
Klimt did not intend his drawings for exhibition and some done with light pencil lines are hard to discern without close inspection. However, they incorporate the same sensuous lines as the figures seen in Klimit's paintings. Klimt appears to have loved his subjects.
One of Klimt's protegees was Econ Schiele. Like Klimt's, Schiele's work often focused on nude figures. However, whereas Klimt focused on the sensuality and beauty of the figures, Schiele's works were more disturbing often incorporating distorted bodies or naked underage girls.
Schiele had a troubled background. He was very shy as a child and seemingly had incestuous feelings toward his younger sister. As an adult, local delinquent children and adolescents would often visit his house. This got him into trouble with the authorities when a local girl ran away from home and took refuge in Schiele's house. The artist was arrested and spent three weeks in prison awaiting trial. He was found not guilty on charges of kidnapping and statutory rape. However, he was found guilty of public immorality on the grounds that he had exposed minors to his erotic artwork.
The experience had a chastening effect. While Schiele continued to draw nudes, there were fewer underage nudes. Also, possibly in order to make his drawings more sale-able, the figures became less distorted. Still, Schiele seems to have had a much more tormented view than Klimt.
Pablo Picasso had a string of relationships and marriages. His wives, girlfriends and mistresses were often subjects. However, most of his nudes were less explicitly sexual than the works of Klimt and Schiele. For example, in this exhibition. We see nude bathers as well as other traditional nude poses. With the exception of “Erotic Scene”, which depicts Picasso's initiation into sex at a Barcelona brothel, the works here seem more concerned with form than with chronicling Picasso's sex life. In this respect, these works are less of a complete presentation of the artist's attitude and handling of this subject than the works presented of the other two artists.
This could be because of the collector. Of the three artists, Picasso was the only one living when Schofield Thayer was collecting and Thayer purchased a number of works directly from Picasso. Thayer did not care for abstract art and so the works that he purchased were some of Picasso's more realistic works.
A collection of art also reveals something about the collector as well as the artists whose works are included in the collection. The number of erotic drawings collected by Thayer reveals a strong interest in this subject. Also, the variety of styles indicates the complexity of the collector's attitudes.
Such indications are consistent with some of the known facts about this collector. Thayer was a wealthy intellectual, the co-publisher of the literary magazine, The Dial. He was also an aesthete, regarded as very handsome. Interested in both sexes, he was reportedly “obsessed with sex.” However, he lived at a time when attitudes toward sex were less positive and open than today. Perhaps as a result of such conflicts, he underwent psycoanalysis with Sigmond Freud, suffered a breakdown and spent most of his life in seclusion.
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Art review - Met Breuer - "Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele and Picasso from the Thayer collection