When the Getty Center searched for the best exhibition partner for a special exhibition of the works of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt, it selected the Albertina, the largest fine art collection in Austria. Its collection of over three million works of art has made the Albertina the third largest art collection in the world, focused on prints, etchings and the “works on paper” category. This summer, the Albertina is also showing a special exhibition of original paintings from the Batliner Collection. The popular collection will encore in a new exhibition to open December 15, 2013, so museum devotees from California and other areas can have plenty of time to plan their own visit.
A detailed viewing of the Batliner Collection provides a valuable opportunity to appreciate a strength many distinguished artists share in common. That is cumulative expertise. Artistic talent is a great advantage, but repetition and refinement of the same type of art over many years has elevated many excellent artists to the upper echelon. Later works by many world famous artists shown in the Batliner Collection illustrate how the power of artistic experience adds value to works of art in the masterpiece category.
A classic example from the “water lilies series” by Claude Monet provides insight into how experience makes a difference. Monet focused his painting towards the end of his career landscapes depicting the exterior of his home in Giverny, near Paris. In addition to large, full-room sized panels for formal displays by French government ministries, Monet completed dozens of oil paintings about these subjects, based on thousands of preparatory sketches. This cumulative experience enabled him to make his depictions of water lilies larger than life. The textures and color variations, as well as fine gradations in the atmosphere around the lily pond, transform each painting into a botanical study of ephemeral beauty.
The great Austrian master Gustav Klimt is also represented in the Batliner Collection works on exhibition at the Albertina. Klimt earned renown as a portrait painter, immortalizing the wives and daughters of prominent merchants and aristocrats in Vienna. He typically prepared dozens of sketches of subjects for these portraits and made over ten-thousand sketches of female models for other works featuring mythological or symbolic subjects. Over time, this made him an expert in representing female figures and the personality traits intertwined with these figures. An excellent example is in the Batliner Collection, an oil painting of mermaids, called “Silver Aquarians,” from 1899.
Another example of portraiture by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Elisabeth Maitre as a youth, shows how the artists’ frequent creation of portraits allowed him to experiment with different media, accent colors and backgrounds. Over time, this created a dexterity applied in completely different subjects, such as the Riviera landscapes featured in the Winter 2010 exhibition of Renoir’s late career works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Another painting by Edgar Degas in the Batliner Collection shows benefits of artistic experience local museum visitors can appreciate at the extensive Degas collection of the Norton Simon Art Museum in Pasadena. Degas was fascinated with the ballet and ballet dancers as a subject and depicted them in many different media, paintings, chalk drawings, sculptures. Over time, he developed an intuitive appreciation for the poses, movements, shadows, rhythm and aura that makes ballet a memorable experience for viewers.
A late career work by Pablo Picasso in the Batliner Collection, a still life from 1942, reflected the artist’s comfort with this genre under demanding circumstances. Picasso lived in occupied France in 1942, was banned from painting nudes or controversial social subjects, but still needed to somehow make a living as an artist. His extraordinary versatility as an artist enabled him to adapt his painting style to stifling subject restrictions by government censors. The painting shows that experience helped Picasso master this balancing act.
“Venice: The Pink Cloud” painted by Paul Signac in 1909 when he was forty-six, demonstrates how experience with style can also reflect a well-known subject in a new light. Signac continuously refined the “pointillist” painting style, creating mosaic-like constellations of color to project distinctive images on canvas. While Canaletto and hundreds of other traditional fine artists have portrayed the beauty of Venice and its waterways over the centuries, none of these traditional paintings has the aura of romance and intrigue that this interpretive work by Signac exudes.
A sculpture by Swiss artist Alberto Giocametti from 1952 also shows how crafting a distinctive style benefits from repetition. The subject, four women seated on a bench, is quite different from the single subject portrayals of individual body parts that Giocametti is best known for. But his irregular and borderline distorted metalwork transforms the subject into a work that is distinctively a Giocametti.
An uncharacteristic work by Wassily Kandinsky in the collection also shows how this artist’s deep experience with vividly colorful abstract geometric compositions enabled him to take a distinctively different approach to a common subject. The 1911 landscape was painted together with many other artists participating in a plein aire workshop in the Alpine foothills. Careful observation of the watercolor shows that it is not a typical plein aire landscape and is composed of vividly colorful abstract geometric shapes that blend together in the format of a landscape painting.
The Batliner Collection also includes late career works by Munch, Nolde, Kirchner, Matisse, Miro, Modigliani, Chagall, Malewitsch, Bacon, Richter, Rainer, Kiefer and Baselitz. Collectively they show how the experience of a sophisticated collector can also make a difference in building a museum quality collection. The current exhibition continues through September 15 and will reopen December 15. The Albertina Galleries are located in central Vienna, Austria, a short walk from the Vienna State Opera.