Jewish Museum Vienna (www.jmw.at)
Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg (1889-1942) was one of the pioneers of Expressionist painting in Austria after 1918. Led by modern artists like Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka, many young Viennese painters saw this dynamic expressive style as an artistic response to the turbulent era around the end of the First World War.
Their platform was the Hagenbund artists’ association, which was the most important forum for Expressionism and New Objectivity between the wars until it was banned by the Nazis in 1938. Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg, along with Josef Floch, Georg Merkel and Franz Lerch, was one of the main figures in the Hagenbund and was its president in 1924/25.
After the annexation of Austria in 1938 he was forced out of his studio and worked underground until his deportation and death in 1942. The exhibition by the Jewish Museum Vienna is the first retrospective devoted to this largely forgotten inter-war painter.
Stirring and Committed Pictures
The exhibition features some 25 oil paintings and 70 watercolors and drawings, providing a representative cross-section of the life and work of Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg. The first phase of the artist’s activities extends from the early works before the First World War, clearly influenced by the Impressionism of Emil Jakob Schindler and others, to the haunting and vivid portrayals of war on the Russian front and the first eruption of Expressionist painting.
Loans from private collections and the Museum of Military History in Vienna document the artist’s vital and animated handwriting during the war years. Strongly influenced by Oskar Kokoschka and Max Oppenheimer, Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg then transformed the existential turmoil of the year 1918 into a series of large-scale allegories espousing basic human values with a pathos typical of the time. Schwarz-Waldegg’s most well known work and the high point of his oeuvre, the oil painting “Confession” (1920) owned by the Belvedere reflects an interest in psychoanalysis and is part of a group of typical Expressionist themes that includes the paintings “Eternity,” “Source” and “Man and Crystal.”
Fritz Schwarz-Waldegg quickly gave the artistic energy of the new beginning in 1919 a cosmopolitan dimension. He travelled extensively and painted everywhere he went: He visited Copenhagen in 1921, Lake Garda and Rome in 1923, and Paris in 1924, where he kept a diary with sketches of several exhibitions.
His travelling companions Lea Jaray-Bondi, owner of the Würthle gallery in Vienna, and the writer Franz Blei were members of the educated modern art milieu of those years that also included Victor Tischler and Josef Floch, who proposed a cultured Francophile painting style relatively free of avant-garde experimentation. Other high points of this cosmopolitan curiosity, which in Schwarz-Waldegg’s art turned repeatedly to genre painting, were visits to Spain (1929) and Bosnia (1933).
During the Ständestaat era (1934-1938) Schwarz-Waldegg continued to live as a well established painter in Vienna and regularly contributed to the Hagenbund exhibitions. The exhibition at the Jewish Museum Vienna documents these years with genre paintings of Austrian rural life and religious and historical themes, which were a new focus of his work.
Death and Legacy
After the annexation by the Nazis in 1938 he was excluded from official art circles and lived with his sister, occupying himself by painting portraits of his few remaining friends and supporters. In 1942 he was deported to Minsk and killed there. His pictures remained initially in the possession of surviving family members and are today in private collections and museums throughout Europe. The last exhibition of his work was organized by Georg Eisler at the Secession in 1968.