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This report is taken from PN Review 49, Volume 12 Number 5, May - June 1986.

Vienna's Century J.M. Cohen

An Empire disintegrates beneath a coruscating display of artistic and intellectual creativity. As for the Habsburgs themselves, they feature in this stupendous evocation of Vienna's achievement only in the blood-stained uniform of the murdered Archduke, and a portrait of the aged Emperor and his bemedalled suite in a box, in the extreme left-hand bottom corner of Otto Klimt's picture of a gala night at the Opera. Even literature makes only fleeting appearances: a quotation from Musil, a photograph of von Hofmannsthal, some volumes of Schnitzler to stand for his and other men's work afterwards burnt by the Nazis. Kafka and Trakl are off-stage, and so is Rilke, being Austrian but not Viennese. But Freud, Mahler, Klimt, Schiele, Kokoschka, and the architects Otto Wagner and Josef Hoffman represent a turn-of-the-century which was also a nodal point in thought and art.

The painters and architects of course dominate the show, whose central feature is the reconstructed Beethoven memorial hall with Klimt's panels, the chief of which is the famous and enigmatic 'Kiss', and Egger-Leinz's powerful war-paintings. Egon Schiele, who died at 28, shows an even deeper anticipation of the horrors to come. His pyramidal group of a mother and two children, and his prone and tortured half-animal man tells us everything of what lay in store for Vienna up to the Holocaust.

Klimt is well represented outside the Beethoven room by borrowed paintings that show his vast span of capability, from a Sargent-like portrait of a fashionable ...


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