Came for the Klimt, Stayed for the Gerstl

Today I made good on the promise I made myself back in February to see the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II before September, when it will go to its new home, a private collection in China. See this post for the background of why this is interesting.


The original Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer (the “Woman in Gold”) is spectacular, and seeing it in the same room with a collection of many other important Klimt portraits is pretty special.


While at the Neue Galerie, I had a chance to see a fantastic exhibition of Richard Gerstl, who is virtually unknown to many today, but was a very influential Viennese artist who died at age 25 in 1908. Gerstl’s unique style preceded the German Expressionists and foreshadowed them. His work was original, intense and beautiful.


Self portrait

He committed suicide by first stabbing and then hanging himself after being caught in flagrante delicto by Arnold Schõnberg, with his wife Mathilde.

Schönberg had asked Gerstl to give him painting lessons, as he had hoped to be able to supplement the meager income he had from composing music. Gerstl became close friends with the Schönbergs (a little too close, evidently), and their circle of artist and musician friends, and painted Mathilde many times.

After Gerstl’s suicide, his family hid away all his works in an effort to put the whole scandal behind them, which is why he is virtually unknown today.

Mathilde wrote a letter to Richard’s brother Alois, asking him to destroy anything he might find among Richard’s things that related to her:

Dear Herr Gerstl. – Many thanks for your efforts, I would have much liked to speak to you myself, but I am so poorly and down because of the tragedy, that I found it to be impossible. I certainly hope to speak to you, when we are all somewhat calmer. – I would only now ask you, if you should find something in Richard’s studio, that you suspect to belong to me, simply to destroy it. Please do not send me anything, it is all so terribly painful, and only reminds me of the tragic misfortune. -Believe me, Richard has chosen the easiest way for both of us. To have to live, in such circumstances, is very hard.
Be well, and as I said, I hope that I haven’t spoken to you for the last time. Yours
Mathilde Schönberg.

Only a small body of Gerstl’s work remains, and the exhibition at the Neue Galerie has many important pieces. I particularly like the portraits of his brother, his father and himself.





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