European Masters: Städel Museum 19th-20th Century

goethe-by-johann_heinrich_wilhelm_tischbeinThursday, 17 June 2010

Dear Diary,

European Masters: Städel Museum has opened tonight at the National Gallery of Victoria. The exhibition consists of about 100 paintings and sculptures, and concentrates mainly on the 19th and early 20th century holdings of the museum. It presents a great opportunity to see the highlights of the French Impressionism from the Städel collection, and perhaps an unprecedented opportunity to view such a broad representation of German artists in Australia.

The exhibition is definitely worth visiting to experience Johann Tischbein’s portrait of Goethe, which is perhaps one of the most iconic works of the German school; an energetic Arabian hunting scene by Eugène Delacroix; a great interior family scene by Claude Monet; classic impressionist landscapes by Claude Monet and Alfred Sisley; a ballet scene by Edgar Degas; and effervescent societal study by Auguste Renoir; a dark and brooding Arnold Böcklin; a classic Italian maiden by Anselm Feuerbach; a whimsical landscape by Henri Rousseau; a powerful pieta by Franz von Stuck; a most energetic and expressive Samson and Delilah by Max Liebermann; a representative selection of works by Max Beckmann; a small but iconic Max Ernst; an expressively fauvist Ernst Ludwig Kirschner; and perhaps a few others.

samson_dalilah_liebermannThe exhibition, however, also contains a number of important names, which are not necessarily  accompanied by their best or even representative works. There are, for example, very indifferent paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, and James Ensor; while Paul Sérusier, Pierre Bonnard, and Pablo Picasso are represented by works which are inferior to the ones in the National Gallery of Victoria’s very own collection. The inclusion of such paintings in this trans-oceanic exhibition is puzzling given the effort and expense of bringing such show to Australia. I would have loved to have been the proverbial fly on the wall to understand how did the selection process work. This is why, perhaps, the exhibition is very diplomatically called European Masters instead of European Masterpieces.


The exhibition was made possible due to the temporary closure of the Städel Museum for renovations. It would be interesting to find out, therefore, why the time limitation of 19th and early 20th century has been imposed on this exhibition. This has deprived the Australian public from experiencing true gems of the collection’s world-renowned masterpieces by Botticelli, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Dürer, and numerous others. Another puzzling aspect of the exhibition is that works which were included in the catalogue were not actually on view at the time of the exhibition’s opening on Thursday night, and counted among them paintings by such renowned artists as Edouard Manet, Hans von Marées, and Edvard Munch.

That having been said, I would still highly recommend a visit to this exhibition for the reasons, the artists, and their paintings enumerated in the second paragraph above, for both the exhibition and its catalogue deserve a closer and more thorough examination. However, it does make me wonder whether a tighter, smaller exhibition of greater quality works should have been preferred.

[© Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg 2010. This article is copyright, but the full or partial use is WELCOME with the full and proper acknowledgment]

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Eugene Barilo v. Reisberg

June 2010


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