The extensive exhibition unites works by Boeckl, Böhler, Dobrowsky, Egger-Lienz, Faistauer, Frankl,Kolig, Pauser, Wickenburg and Walde from the period between 1918 and 1938

From 10th February, the Leopold Museum presents works by eleven artists, who all made eminent contributions to Austrian modernist painting during the time of the First Republic, in the exhibition The Twilight of Humanity. Between Lyrical Sensitivity and Objective World View. After the third lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, this presentation, curated by Director Hans-Peter Wipplinger, marks the start of the 2021 exhibition year at the Leopold Museum. In terms of the period and themes highlighted, the exhibition follows on from the Leopold Museum’s current permanent presentation Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism. The compilation focuses on a number of eminent artists whose works were especially esteemed and widely collected by the museum’s founder Rudolf Leopold: Alfons Walde, Albin Egger-Lienz, Anton Kolig, Herbert Boeckl, Gerhart Frankl, Anton Faistauer, Josef Dobrowsky, Hans Böhler, Alfred Wickenburg, Rudolf Wacker and Sergius Pauser. The selection unites some 100 paintings from the collection of the Leopold Museum with works from the Leopold, Private Collection.

Examples of Austrian art between 1918 and 1938 document the pluralism between a reticent expressive colorism dominated by inwardness and a New Objectivity informed by a sober view of the material world. The social, economic and political upheaval following the demise of the Austrian Monarchy and the traumatic experiences of war added thematic emphases, though these were often addressed in a veiled manner.

Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Director of the Leopold Museum and curator of the exhibition

Between melancholy and cool objectivity

During the years following World War I, buried utopias gave way to dystopias; social hardships, depression and a skepticism towards life took hold. Artists sought refuge in playful depictions, timeless still lifes or fairytale-like landscapes which appear escapist given the reality of the times. The spectrum of art from this time ranges from cheerful and dreamlike depictions to melancholy subjects permeated by sadness. The Expressionism of the time is reflected in an emotive visual language looking to question models of identity. Vividly luminous as well as dark and earthy colors, used increasingly autonomously, dominate this painterly style. Pastose dapples of paint, employed as a design element, occasionally drive the pictorial structure into dissolution. Along with these Expressionist variants, the era was dominated by tendencies of New Objectivity. The longing for structure, clarity and order after the apocalypse of World War I was evident and resulted in a sharp-edged linear style, in clearly delineated shapes and a deliberately sober and detached manner of depiction. The tranquility, rigidity and motionlessness of the subjects was paired with reticent colors and a consolidation of forms aimed at navigating the new reality through an objective approach.

Departure into the unknown

Impulses derived from the creativeness of Expressionist art in early 20th century painting, graphic arts and literature, as well as international Cubist and Post-Impressionist influences, provided the basis for the expressive, colorful painting prevalent in Austria during the interwar period. The political and cultural departure into the unknown was associated with a temporary artistic vacuum left by the untimely deaths of ground-breaking painters and architects including Otto Wagner, Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser and Egon Schiele (who all died in 1918).

Referring to the spirit of the time as The Twilight of Humanity

The exhibition’s title refers to an anthology of Expressionist poetry published in 1919 by the author and journalist Kurt Pinthus (1886-1975). His work The Twilight of Humanity. A Symphony of Recent Poetry, which outlines the diversity of poetry at the time, comprises lyrical texts by authors such as Gottfried Benn, Walter Hasenclever, Georg Heym, Else Lasker-Schüler, Georg Trakl and Franz Werfel, illustrated with portraits of the poets created by artists including Ludwig Meidner, Oskar Kokoschka, Wilhelm Lehmbruck and Egon Schiele. The works from the Leopold Collection shown in the exhibition convey the artistic spirit of this time between 1918 and 1938, which was dominated in equal measure by skepticism and an atmosphere of departure.

In this context, The Twilight of Humanity can be interpreted as a dawn in art as much as a dusk of civilization, a late glimmer of humanism before the barbarism of World War II, whose devastating consequence make themselves felt to this day. The extraordinary achievements of Austrian art in the inter-war period contributed to a continuous consolidation of its position on the international art scene, with presentations at the Venice Biennials and the 1937 Paris World Fair, albeit already under altered political circumstances.

By the time the architect Oswald Haerdtl invested the 1937 Austrian pavilion in Paris with an objective-modern design, Austria had been subject to the authoritarian political leadership of the Austro-Fascist Corporate State since 1934. On the eve of the second global conflagration, the Jeu de Paume showcased a selection of Austrian art in the Exposition d’Art Autrichien in an attempt to affirm the artistic autonomy of a state that was beginning to topple. The following year saw Austria’s enforced political conformity with the National Socialist regime in March 1938, news of which reached Oskar Kokoschka in his self-imposed exile in Prague. In 1937 Vienna had honored the artist with an exhibition to mark his 50th birthday at the Austrian Museum of Art and Industry, while the same year the now proscribed artist’s work featured in the National Socialists’ infamous presentation Degenerate Art in Munich. Since 2019 the Leopold Museum has dedicated a special section of its presentation Vienna 1900 to Kokoschka, representing the world’s most extensive permanent exhibition of the exceptional artist’s work in a museum.

The Twilight of Humanity
Between Lyrical Sensitivity and Objective World View
From 10th February 2021


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