June 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

This week: the I, Science Culture Club goes to the Royal Academy of Arts to see drawings by two Austrian painters, Schiele and Klimt.

The Klimt/Schiele exhibition at the RA offers a unique opportunity to explore the exceptional drawings of both artists, which some recognise to be the 20th century’s most highly acclaimed works on paper. The exhibition is the first in the UK to present their work side by side, exploring their academic training and their unusual and unconventional illustrations of the human figure. For Klimt and Schiele, two of Austria’s most well renowned artists, drawing was a highly expressive practice which conveyed the new ideas present in modernity, including subjectivity and the erotic.

female body sketch
Figure 1 Floating Female Figure, Gustav Klimt

Klimt opposed the rational, scientific approaches which directed university learning by depicting humanity ‘at the mercy of fate’.  This can be seen in his drawings and his approach to nakedness, presenting taboo topics, including diseased and ugly bodies, as well as pregnancy.  Klimt diverged from the ideal and unveiled a bitter and cruel reality. His unconventional style was further reinforced by his techniques, producing swift sequences in black chalk, sometimes in a faint red or white pencil, on cheap packing paper.

nude female art
Figure 2 Standing Nude Young Girl, Egon Schiele

Unable to afford professional models, Schiele’s subjects included street children and prostitutes from the deprived regions of Vienna. We are not presented with aristocratic figures, but instead we are given an insight into a very different world: a world rife with disease and poverty.   Schiele’s drawings, like the nude young girl, convey a heightened sense of the subject’s vulnerability.  They are honestly harsh, and unforgivingly raw.

The Klimt/Schiele exhibition runs until 3rd February 2019 at the Royal Academy of Arts, W1J 0BD

Kathy Grenville is studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London

Banner Image: Egon Schiele Self Portrait, Wikipedia