Re-opening of the Leopold Museum on 5th May with a new focus exhibition

The Body Electric shows little-known depictions of patients by Erwin Dominik Osen and Egon Schiele – further exhibitions were extended

The exhibition The Body Electric: Erwin Osen – Egon Schiele centers on portraits of patients created by Erwin Osen which were recently discovered among the estate of the electropathologist Stefan Jellinek and acquired by the Leopold Museum. Osen was a companion and model to Schiele as well as a co-founder of the artists’ association Neukunstgruppe. The drawings, executed in 1915 at Vienna’s Garrison Hospital II under Jellinek, are juxtaposed with Osen’s portraits of patients from the psychiatric hospital Am Steinhof, created in 1913 and commissioned by the general practitioner Adolf Kronfeld, as well as with the depictions of pregnant women and newborns Egon Schiele was able to create in 1910 with the support of the gynecologist Erwin von Graff at the 2nd Women’s Clinic in Vienna. The exhibition addresses questions about the works’ background of creation, about gaze and objectification, outlines the communalities in the biographies of the two artists and reflects on their contributions to a “clinical modernism”.

In his poem I Sing the Body Electric, published in 1855 in the anthology Leaves of Grass, the US poet Walt Whitman celebrated our human physicality as our psyche. Whitman’s text thus prefigured Osen’s and Schiele’s interest in the human body as subject and as the medium through which we understand ourselves and our relationship with others.

Vienna around 1900 – center of clinical medicine, birthplace of electropathology

Vienna was considered the capital of clinical medicine in Europe at the turn of the century – a time when the body and the psyche became the object of unprecedented artistic and scientific interest. Schiele, Osen and other artists were in contact with medical specialists who acted as their collectors and commissioners, and gave them access to medical institutions for their work. The Body Electric shows Osen’s hitherto unknown drawings for the first time. They enrich our understanding of Viennese Modernism and its art practice which was closely linked with the culture of clinical medicine as a patient-oriented practice of medical science.

Gemma Blackshaw and Verena Gamper, curators of the exhibition

Osen’s renderings of patients were presumably commissioned by the physician Stefan Jellinek, who was active in Vienna and from the late 1890s placed his scientific emphasis on researching the dangers but also the medical uses of electricity. In 1903 Jellinek founded electropathology as a new field of research, gradually compiled a collection of objects and established the Electropathological Museum in 1909. The presented selection of drawings, photographs and charts from Jellinek’s collection, most of which is kept today at the Technisches Museum Wien [Vienna Museum of Science and Technology], predominantly dates from the time when he headed the neurological department of the Garrison Hospital II during World War I.

Acquiring these hitherto unknown drawings by Erwin Osen from the estate of Stefan Jellinek for the collection presented a unique opportunity to the Leopold Museum. It was the wish of the doctor’s descendants, who live in England, to give this group of works to a museum in Vienna – the place where they were created and where pioneering work was done in the fields of medicine and art around 1900.

Hans-Peter Wipplinger, Director of the Leopold Museum

Erwin Osen as an artist and patient – portrait art and figural depictions in clinical institutions

In 1915 Osen was himself a patient at the neurological department of the Garrison Hospital II on account of his chronic neurasthenia or “nerve weakness”; his series of nine empathic portraits was created both during and after his in-patient treatment there. His drawings of soldiers, who likely also received electrotherapeutic treatment, emphasize their vulnerability and humanity. Already in 1913 the artist had been commissioned by Adolf Kronfeld to create patient portraits at the psychiatric clinic Am Steinhof which were used to illustrate a lecture on pathological expressions in portraits. It appears plausible that the drawings executed at the Garrison Hospital would have served a similar purpose. The Body Electric contextualizes Osen’s portraits of patients with Schiele’s depictions of newborns and patients he had been able to create some years previously at the maternity ward of the 2nd Women’s Clinic with the support of the gynecologist Erwin von Graff, thus highlighting the body as an object in which medical and artistic interests converged.

Osen’s influence on Schiele’s oeuvre

The focus exhibition also sheds light on the fruitful, albeit not conflict-free relationship the two very different artists maintained from 1909 to 1914 – Osen was said to be exalted and attention-seeking, while Schiele was described as reticent. Schiele’s life and oeuvre has been the subject of intense international research for decades, while Osen’s biography is shrouded in fiction and rumors, and his pictorial oeuvre, which is partly lost, has up until now gone largely unnoticed. The exhibition addresses the summer they spent together in Krumau in 1910, Schiele’s portraits of the “Mime van Osen” created the same year, and the traces of the Bosnian dancer Moa Mandu in the works of both artists.

Schiele’s in-depth exploration of the male body and of questions pertaining to sexual identity, which became manifest in numerous nude depictions and at times decidedly androgynous nude self-portraits, was likely sparked or fueled by the extrovert “Mime van Osen”. The “painter for theater art” Erwin Osen may be regarded as an initiator for the vitalization of the body in Schiele’s art, which was crucial for the reassessment of the body as a medium.

Verena Gamper, curator of the exhibition

Curators: Gemma Blackshaw, Verena Gamper

Digital exhibition

Press materials

Further on display at the Leopold Museum from 5th May are the following exhibitions:

The Twilight of Humanity. Between Lyrical Sensitivity and Objective World View

Extended until 24th May 2021

This presentation shines the spotlight on works created between 1918 and 1938 by eleven eminent exponents of Austrian Modernism: Herbert Boeckl, Hans Böhler, Josef Dobrowsky, Albin Egger-Lienz, Anton Faistauer, Gerhart Frankl, Anton Kolig, Sergius Pauser, Rudolf Wacker, Alfons Walde and Alfred Wickenburg. The traumatic experiences of World War I, the demise of the Habsburg Monarchy and the rise and fall of the first Austrian Republic provided impetus to these artists whose styles ranged from an expressive colorism – with a palette of vividly luminous or dark and earthy colors – to a sober and detached manner of depiction. Still lifes and fairytale-like landscapes reflect escapist tendencies, while social hardships and a skepticism towards life found expression in melancholy subjects. With the sharp-edged, linear style of New Objectivity artists sought to capture the new reality through consolidated shapes and reticent colors.

Curator: Hans-Peter Wipplinger

Emil Pirchan. Visual Revolution

Extended until 4th July 2021

The first retrospective of Emil Pirchan’s work in Austria affords insights into the oeuvre of this universal artist who rose to fame as a commercial artist and pioneer of Expressionist stage design, and worked in Munich, Berlin, Prague and Vienna as an advertising artist, designer, stage designer, university lecturer, architect, author and book illustrator. Having worked at the Bavarian State Theaters in Munich, the film and theater director Leopold Jessner appointed Pirchan to the Berlin State Theaters. Pirchan described himself as “an organist at the surging organ of stage colors, stage lighting and interior decoration”. A reappraisal of Pirchan’s estate by the artist’s grandson Beat Steffan provided the basis for the exhibitions at the Museum Folkwang in Essen and the Leopold Museum. 

Curator: Ivan Ristić

Inspirational Beethoven. A Symphony in Pictures from Vienna 1900

Extended until 4th July 2021

Marking the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven in late 2020, the focus exhibition centers on Josef Maria Auchentaller’s pictorial program for the music salon of the villa belonging to the Viennese jewelry manufacturer Georg Adam Scheid. Consisting of five paintings, measuring almost two-and-a-half meters in height with an overall length of around nine meters, Auchentaller drew inspiration for this work in 1898/99 from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, known as the Pastoral Symphony. The first reconstruction of the music salon in Austria offers a spatial experience of this unique Gesamtkunstwerk – in a dialogue with works by artists of the Vienna Secession, including Klimt, Roller and Hoffmann. The presentation highlights how Beethoven became a source of inspiration and varied point of reference to exponents of Viennese Modernism fighting for renewal and recognition in fin-de-siècle visual arts.

Curators: Dominik Papst, Werner Telesko

Vienna 1900. Birth of Modernism

The permanent presentation affords insights into the diversity of this era’s artistic and intellectual achievements with their cultural, social, political and scientific implications. Based on the collection compiled by Rudolf Leopold, and complemented by numerous loans, the exhibition conveys the atmosphere of the world’s former cultural capital and highlights the sense of departure characterized by contrasts prevalent around 1900. The presentation extends over three floors and features some 1,300 exhibits on more than 3,000 m2 of exhibition space. Spanning the period of around 1870 to 1930, the presentation comprises a singular variety of media, ranging from painting, graphic art, sculpture and photography, via archival material, glass, ceramics, metals, textiles, leather and jewelry, all the way to items of furniture and entire furnishings of apartments. Since late 2020, the presentation also includes the painting The Altar of Dionysus by Gustav Klimt which was gifted to the museum by private donors. Photographs, graphic works and archival material are replaced regularly for conservational reasons, thus allowing for new perspectives.

Curator: Hans-Peter Wipplinger


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