Issue Number: 116
Jill Lloyd finds out why a major collection of twentieth-century German and Austrian art is coming to town
Gallerist Richard Nagy’s exhibition of works from Benedict Silverman’s collection provides a rare chance to see museum-quality German and Austrian art in London. One of New York’s most discerning collectors – as well as a renowned US philanthropist – Silverman has built up several major collections of modern art and furniture over the past half-century. Now aged 83, he is selling his New York apartment, which houses one of the most important private collections of early 20th-century German and Austrian art in the world, and setting up a charitable foundation to sponsor children’s education worldwide. Nagy, who supplied Silverman with most of the key works in the collection, will in time, oversee its dispersal.
On show in the London venue are paintings and works on paper by Egon Schiele, Otto Dix, George Grosz and Max Beckmann. Highlights include Grosz’s tumultuous Beat of the Street (1918) which captures the chaos and decadence of Berlin on the brink of the Weimar era, and Egon Schiele’s Round Table (1918), depicting a group of like-minded artists united in a quasi-religious last supper, unaware that the Austro-Hungarian Empire is falling apart.
George Grosz, 'Beat of the Street', 1918. Courtesy of Benedict Silverman/Courtesy of Richard Nagy Ltd, London.
Self-portraiture is a strong theme in the collection. In Otto Dix’s Self-Portrait with Model (1923) the artist stands meticulously dressed, alongside his nude model, examining both himself and her with a clinical eye. This is a far cry from the self-dramatisation evident in Schiele’s Self-Portrait as St Sebastian (1904) or the fervent introspection of Ludwig Meidner’s Self-Portrait of 1920. Such contrasts show how the theme of self-scrutiny developed from Expressionist self-obsession to the cool ‘New Objectivity’ of the Weimar years.
Meidner’s self-portrait is one of a number of major works on show by this powerful artist who – like the Austrian Expressionist Alfred Kubin – deserves to be better known in the UK. Meidner’s Apocalyptic Landscape (1913) and Kubin’s haunting ink-wash drawings provide us with a vivid glimpse of a dark and troubled world on the eve of the First World War. Together the iconic works in this collection evoke a dangerous and poignant moment in history, which makes them seem strikingly relevant and immediate today.