Artibus et Historiae no. 62 (XXXI)

2010, ISSN 0391-9064

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WERNER HOFMANN - Goya and Vienna

In the spring of 1908 the Galerie Miethke showed the first retrospective of Goya in Vienna: eighteen paintings, more than fifty drawings and the complete graphic works were united unfortunately without a catalogue. This seminal event has not been noticed so far by the ‘Goya-Forschung’, and even Nigel Glendinning does not mention it in his famous Goya and his Critics. The only serious review of the exhibition was written by Ludwig Hevesi and published in the Wiener Fremdenblatt newspaper on 13 May. This exhibition had a strong impact on the artistic world, as I presume. This can be traced in the works of Kokoschka and Kubin, who both discovered the visual metaphors of suffering and distortion in the work of the great Spanish master, and used them as weapons against the saturated taste of the Imperial capital, known for easy-going life and superficial embellishments.

Kokoschka’s art emerged from the refinement of the Secessionists (Klimt). In 1908 it left the secureness of stylization to proceed towards the realms suffering and mutilation. This is how Kokoschka renewed the meaning of religious themes, like the Pietà. Kubin, on the other hand, followed Goya into the abyss of human depravity and self-destruction. His universe was nothing but a sequence of variations on cruelty mixed with sadistic terror.

These very aspects distinguished Austrian modernism from its German counterpart which was much less preoccupied with dark sides of human existence, and it is to these dimensions that Goya had opened the doors.

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