Albertina is housed in a former Habsberg palace in district 1 (the centre) of Vienna. The museum comprises a permanent collection and several temporary exhibitions, as well as the imperial state rooms decorated in Empire Style following Archduke Carl’s redevelopment of the original Louis XVI décor in 1822. In addition to grand interiors and furnishings, these state rooms also display the Archduke’s personal art collection including pieces by Da’ Vinci, Rubens and Rembrandt. The lower ground floor displays ‘Worlds of Romanticism’ which offers a wonderful insight into Austrian art from its founding as a nation in 1804 until the end of the 19th century; highlights for me included Carl Belchen’s ‘The Wild Hunter’ and ‘Withered Tree Trunks’ and Peter Cornelius’ ‘Faust Illustrations’. The top floor contains the permanent Batliner Collection which showcases works chronologically from Monet to Picasso including Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, Klimpt, Matisse, Rodin, Gaugin, Kirchner, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Chagall, Margritte and Miro amongst others. The pinnacle of the museum for me however was a temporary exhibition on the second floor dedicated to Edvard Much entitled ‘Life, Death and Loneliness’ displaying a vast number of the Norwegian printmakers woodcuts, lithographs and dry-point works. All of his pieces have a haunting intensity and centre around psychological themes, evident in their titles ‘Jealousy’, ‘Separation’, ‘Anxiety’, ‘Melancholy’ and ‘The Lonely Ones’ and echoed in the artists’ personal battles with long term alcoholism, a nervous breakdown and even inflicting a gunshot wound to his own left hand following an argument with his lover! I was delighted to see ‘The Scream’ (arguably Munch’s most infamous work) in person, and was moved by the lesser known ‘Madonna’ which combines imagery associated with both femme fatale and femme fragile alongside religious iconography to produce a truly stirring piece. Albertina is without doubt a stunning building both inside and out!
Dulwich isn’t always the easiest part of London to travel to… however their current exhibition on enigmatic Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelius Escher is certainly worth the effort. It features nearly 100 pieces from the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag collection, starting with his early works of 1920’s through to his last print ‘Snakes’ from 1969. For an artist with so many iconic pieces, Escher remains an obscure figure, but this exhibition sheds light on his original intentions to study architecture, his travels through Europe, marriage to Jetta and their children, and politics of the time – which place the works in much better context. There are too many standout pieces to mention, but ‘Eight Heads’ a 1992 woodcut, ‘Metamorphosis II’ a monumental woodcut (unusually featuring colour) created in 1939-‘40, and ‘Eye’ a mezzotint from 1946 deserve special attention. ‘Eight Heads’ is Escher’s first tessellation and gives the impression of a never ending story by repeating the same pattern of eight heads as its’ central motif. ‘Metamorphosis II’ spans an entire wall of one gallery and was extended to a 42 metre version in 1967 for the Post Office in The Hague; it begins and ends with the word metamorphose against a mono background and includes a chequered pattern which morphs into tessellations of reptiles, honeycomb, insects, fish, birds, and three dimensional blocs with red tops merging into an Italian coastal town and on into a chess set, all in stunning detail, ‘Eye’ features his own eye magnified by a convex shaving mirror with a skull occupying the centre of his pupil, and is displayed alongside the sketch and metal etching plate that the dry-point image was printed from, explaining the artistic process. Having now seen these pieces close up, I can only lament that Escher died in 1972 and I will never have the opportunity to hear him talk and gain insight into the inspiration behind his surreal yet methodical and mathematically perfect images.