Masterpieces in Focus: Max Oppenheimer – Belvedere, Vienna
Masterpieces in Focus:
Max Oppenheimer – Mahler and the Music
23 September 2010 to 13 February 2011
As from 2009, the Belvedere presents this exhibition series entitled Masterpieces in Focus every spring and autumn, special displays of selected works are meant to demonstrate the high quality of the collection.
Max Oppenheimer infront of his work The Philharmonic, ca. 1938
© Archiv Museum Langmatt, Stiftung Langmatt Sidney und Jenny Brown, Baden (Switzerland)
To mark the 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s birth, the Belvedere is devoting an exhibition in the series Masterpieces in Focus to Max Oppenheimers‘ painting The Philharmonic. Mahler’s work as a composer and music opera director exerted a crucial influence on how his contemporaries perceived music, and expressed himself directly in the paintings and sculptures of various artists.
From 1914, the world of music had become the focal point of creativity for the passionate violinist and music expert, which in itself, however, was not so extraordinary. Music gained the attention of many fine artists, at the latest with Richard Wagner. The work Gustav Mahler conducts the Vienna Philarmonic Orchestra was created over a long period from 1926 to 1952, i.e. largely in the Jewish artist’s exile in New York. In its monumental form it is, without doubt, seen as his artistic testament. The link between music and painting was to become a vital remedy for Oppenheimer while away from home. The long period in which this painting was created can be explained as addressing his cultural identity associated with the hope of a universally understood language of art.
Oppenheimer’s other paintings and drawings, and a selection of works of his contemporaries are on show in addition to this monumental work.
The 150th anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s birth is being celebrated this year and the painting of The Philharmonic can be considered as something of an apotheosis of this conductor and composer. With The Philharmonic and Klingler Quartet, the Belvedere is in possession of two of the artist’s main works. Both belong to the series of music paintings in which Oppenheimer achieves an absolutely convincing transfer of the musical experience into painting. His studies show that he had precise knowledge of the subject; this becomes particularly apparent in the way he positions the violinists’ hands – their pizzicato appears to become audible.
The Philharmonic, 1926-1952
Oil and tempera on canvas, laid down on wood
302 x 465 cm
Owned by the Artothek des Bundes, on permanent loan to the Belvedere, Vienna
© Belvedere Vienna
The Klingler-Quartet, 1917
Oil and tempera on canvas
70 x 80 cm
© Belvedere Vienna
The staggered arrangement of the strings, as well as the posture and facial expressions of the wind players, amplifies the “sound” of the Philharmonic. The handling of light and colour and the surge of the reddish-brown to yellow tones from the left to the right invest the painting with a sense of dynamism. Oppenheimer began painting this picture in Berlin in 1926 and continued working on it in his exile in New York until it achieved perfection in 1952.
In the Klingler and Kolisch Quartet paintings, Oppenheimer used a collage-like overlaying of the hands and musical instruments to create a pictorial space equivalent to the concert audience’s view, while the flow of the hands and instruments on the oval surface of the painting creates a sense of rhythm.
Friendship – Portraits
Oppenheimer’s portraits document his friendships as well as his artistic intentions. The splendour of Klimt’s paintings gives way to a tonal feeling. Posture and gestures become the key issue of his endeavours In particular, the hands that are so characteristic of the portrayed gain in importance. The background becomes an artistically enlivened foil. In 1909, Schiele entered into an artistic exchange with Oppenheimer and shared a studio with him for several months. Both further developed psychologization through gestures – components that can also be found in Kokoschka’s work.
The design elements in the portrait of Ferruccio Busoni make the spreading waves of sound audible and illustrate the pianist’s energetically charged performance style. In the later music pictures and portraits of musicians, the hands completely take the place of the physiognomy. It is possible to differentiate between the quartets through the distinguishing positions of the hands alone.
Max Oppenheimer – Ausstellungsansicht
Masterpieces in Focus: Max Oppenheimer, 2010
Photo © Belvedere, Vienna / APA-OTS / Thomas Preiss
Courtesy Belvedere, Wien
Images © Belvedere, Wien