Just when you think there could not be more Judith, there are.
Two destinations today with two different outcomes. The first is the Leopold Museum, across from the Kunsthistorisches Museum – but representing an entirely unique period in the development of artistic expression. The core of the collection is Austrian art of the early 20th century, featuring the transformation from Wiener Secession, Art Nouveau/Jugendstil movement to Expressionism. Although I came primarily to view Kolomon Moser’s Judith and Holofernes, I lingered to learn about the intricate lives of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and the women that influenced their lives. This is an exhibit space that flows easily and provides insight into the lifestyles that spawned the movement away from traditional art to alternate forms of expression that underpin Modern Art today.
But back to Kolomom Moser. Even within the context of the Leopold, this painting of Judith is still a departure for the artist. Although it takes on more form in person, I can only surmise Moser was playing with red pigments when he conceived it. Having recently heard a lecture on Wassily Kandinsky and his fascination with color symbolism and psychology, I wonder if there was some influence from afar.
Maybe it’s all the angst of the time period that drove me to take a detour. Or maybe it’s all the years I spent studying Psychology (and years and years). Or maybe I’m just an egghead who loves history – but probably it’s all three that lead me to this address.
Actually, the small museum in Freud’s apartment/office is fascinating but the wine shop around the corner was equally invigorating.
The truth is there is much more to see in Vienna and not enough time on this trip. In fact, there was really not enough time for my last destination so I saw a small portion of the immense complex known as The Belvedere. But, OH the things I saw in that small portion!!
First, the one thing I can show you – because the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere has an inconsistent policy regarding photography. Without any idea what I was walking into, one room of the museum is devoted to Franz Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783) – a German-Austrian sculptor who seems to have something in common with Arcimboldo. That “something” being a penchant for creating portraits that deviate substantially from traditional depictions. Perhaps due to an underlying mental illness in later life or to visitations by the spirit Hermes Trismegistus, Messerschmidt began to devote his work to “character heads” that represent the 64 canonical grimaces of the human face. The museum owns sixteen of these sculptures, displayed on 4-foot plinths that bring them to eye-level. Arrayed in a circle, they really are a most unusual and unsettling sight – and a curiosity of art.
But about that inconsistent policy regarding photography: use of a camera is allowed through-out the galleries UNTIL you reach the Klimt collection. I am usually very attuned to restrictions on photography and respectful of the policy. HOWEVER, I am taking the time to rant here because (a) it was not clear that photos were not allowed in the Klimt galleries, (b) while the guard was yelling at me for trying to take one discrete photo of Klimt’s Judith AT LEAST THREE PEOPLE NEXT TO ME TOOK PICTURES!! and (c) the guard then FOLLOWED ME through the remaining rooms while people continued to take photos all around. I began to wonder if he was actually an escapee from the Messerschmidt exhibit (where pictures are are allowed BTW)!!
Putting the rant aside, the Klimt collection is perfectly enchanting. The twenty-four works form the largest collection of oil paintings by Klimt in the world, ranging from portraits and landscapes to allegorical scenes. By far, the most famous are The Kiss (1908/1909) and Judith (1901) – exhibited in a darkened room to allow the gold pigments to radiate. And while The Kiss is truly spectacular, of course I was enrapt by my namesake.
Revisiting Judith goes Full-on Femme Fatale, I still feel the same after seeing her in person: “She beautiful but kind of scary. Powerful but kind of sinister. Glittering but kind of tarnished. Who I want to be but kind of not.” She does what art is meant to do: to reveal insights that are normally obscured by direct observation and to enrich experience – even if somewhat disturbing.