28 September 2008 - 18 January 2009

Exhibition Folder (pdf)

The artistic works of August Strindberg, Arnold Schönberg and Edvard Munch opens up expanses and abysses of the human soul; they tell of extreme mental conditions, loneliness, anxieties and visions of death, linked with fantastical manifestations such as ghosts and vampires. “Inner necessity” drove the three avant-garde artists to create their work by “directly expressing” themselves (Schönberg), “approximately copying Nature, especially her way of creating” (Strindberg), in order to “experiment, develop and improve.” They mistrusted superficial perception, turning their gazes inwards instead in order to grasp the intangibles of the subjectively experienced world.

A comprehensive collection of August Strindberg’s pictorial masterpieces is now on display for the first time in Austria; he once called this country his “homeland, even more than Sweden!” Munch exhibited here several times after 1900 and Schönberg, impressed by Munch’s paintings and Strindberg’s writings, composed and painted in Vienna. It was here that Strindberg found inspiration for some of his plays and for his most important landscape paintings.

The focus of this exhibit is on presenting Strindberg’s paintings, pointing out their mental and aesthetic proximity to the compositions of his Viennese contemporaries. Strindberg’s paintings of landscapes (inside his mind) show similarities to Schönberg’s artwork; his cloud studies find their counterparts in Schönberg’s War-Clouds Diary. Apart from aesthetic similarities to Schönberg’s paintings, Munch’s artistic work evinces affinities with the intellectual scene in Vienna around 1900. Schönberg’s Gazes are reminiscent of Munch’s Fear, The Scream, Desperation; a sketch for the set design of “Die glückliche Hand” recalls Munch’s Vampire, the groupings of people in Burial of Gustav Mahler echo Munch’s Death Throes, whereas his illustrations of trees seem to range between those of Munch and Strindberg (The Boulevard).

Parallel to the pictorial aspect, this exhibit also illuminates just how Schönberg and his circle were preoccupied with the Nordic literary avant-garde; works by the Viennese School playwrights are akin to Strindberg’s in terms of content and form. In recurring motifs surrounding the essence of femaleness and the relationship of the sexes to each other, Strindberg found an approach through writing to a “naturalism of the mind,” as his friend Stanisław Przybyszewski called it, which Schönberg discovered for himself in a similar manner as he wrote his monodramas Erwartung (to a libretto by Marie Pappenheim) and Die Glückliche Hand.

The religious orientation of Strindberg’s world – often extending to the occult and theosophy – is reflected in Schönberg’s works (the oratorio Die Jakobsleiter, for example), while Alban Berg planned several compositions based on Strindberg’s work and Anton Webern came to grips with Swedish mystic, theologian and scientist Emanuel Swedenborg in his theater piece Tot (Dead).

The polarization of an objective, scientifically exact way of conceiving of the world and a mystical, irrational and subjective one pervaded the thought of the Nordic avant-garde and that of the Viennese moderns of the time.

This exhibit is an attempt at detecting and presenting the affinities among the forms of expression in music, painting and writing, as well as tracing the intellectual kinship of the influential cultural milieus in Vienna and Northern Europe in the years surrounding 1900.

@ Christian Meyer, Arnold Schönberg Center