Classical Takes on Modernity

Heading a passing recommendation, I entered the Albertina (Vienna, Austria). Checking my watch, I had exactly two hours before heading to the storied Kunsthistoriches Museum—a fair swatch of time for a museum I added last minute to my itinerary. However, enraptured with the array of works displayed, I could have wandered the passageways until closing. After quickly perusing the temporary exhibition, Chagall to Malevich, I arrived at Monet to Picasso, an arrangement of the museum’s permanent holdings. Displaying over 100 pictures in a roughly chronological order, the permanent exhibit presents the stylistically varying ideas of classical modernism. From French Impressionism to Pointillism to Fauvism to Expressionism, the exhibit surveyed the modern masters. Highlighting Monet, Cézanne, Vlaminck, Kirchner, Nolde, Kandinsky, and Chagall, among many others, the quality of hung works was overwhelming.

Less trafficked than the temporary exhibition, the core collection was of blockbuster quality. The range of displays prompted the spectator to reflect on the distinct methods and modes of creation. The galleries allowed the spectator to move around the works, approaching the canvas to observe slight idiosyncrasies and backing away from the material form to analyze the picture as a complete, faultless entity. Spectators seemed to dance through the rooms—reversing, circling, and sashaying towards works of particular intrigue.

Drawn to the early 20th century landscapes, I gravitated towards Emil Nolde’s Moonlit Night (1914) and Edvard Munch’s Winter Landscape (1915). Painting the soul of nature, Nolde and Munch animated natural forms, artificially adding in the kinetic energy of nature, which can only be perceived by the natural eye. In their works, individual strokes of pigment meld into cohesive forms—an honest rendering of nature materializes from the artists’ materials. Seeking to individually experience and secondarily capture for posterity the original state, both artists grounded their creations in their observable surroundings. Taking note of their present reality, these artists abstracted reality; yet, in such abstraction, Nolde and Munch captured the raw essence of nature. Grasping the undulating wildness of nature, Nolde and Munch applied vivacious colors in a viscose manner, crafting unique impressions.

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