The Subject in Art: Portraiture and the Birth of the Modern

Duke University Press
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Challenging prevailing theories regarding the birth of the subject, Catherine M. Soussloff argues that the modern subject did not emerge from psychoanalysis or existential philosophy but rather in the theory and practice of portraiture in early-twentieth-century Vienna. Soussloff traces the development in Vienna of an ethics of representation that emphasized subjects as socially and historically constructed selves who could only be understood—and understand themselves—in relation to others, including the portrait painters and the viewers. In this beautifully illustrated book, she demonstrates both how portrait painters began to focus on the interior lives of their subjects and how the discipline of art history developed around the genre of portraiture.

Soussloff combines a historically grounded examination of art and art historical thinking in Vienna with subsequent theories of portraiture and a careful historiography of philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches to human consciousness from Hegel to Sartre and from Freud to Lacan. She chronicles the emergence of a social theory of art among the art historians of the Vienna School, demonstrates how the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka depicted the Jewish subject, and explores the development of pictorialist photography. Reflecting on the implications of the visualized, modern subject for textual and linguistic analyses of subjectivity, Soussloff concludes that the Viennese art historians, photographers, and painters will henceforth have to be recognized as precursors to such better-known theorists of the subject as Sartre, Foucault, and Lacan.

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About the author

Catherine M. Soussloff holds the University of California Presidential Chair in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of The Absolute Artist: The Historiography of a Concept and the editor of Jewish Identity in Modern Art History.


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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Oct 4, 2006
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Pages
192
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ISBN
9780822388531
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Art / History / Modern (late 19th Century to 1945)
Art / Subjects & Themes / Portraits
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The history of art from the early nineteenth century on-ward is commonly viewed as a succession of conflicts between innovatory and established styles that culminated in the formalism and aesthetic autonomy of high modernism. In Art and Crisis, first published in 1948, Hans Sedlmayr argues that the aesthetic disjunctures of modern art signify more than matters of style and point to much deeper processes of cultural and religious disintegration.

As Roger Kimball observes in his informative new introduction, Art in Crisis is as much an exercise in cultural or spiritual analysis as it is a work of art history. Sedlmayr's reads the art of the last two centuries as a fever chart of the modern age in its greatness and its decay. He discusses the advent of Romanticism with its freeing of the imagination as a conscious sundering of art from humanist and religious traditions with the aesthetic treated as a category independent of human need. Looking at the social purposes of architecture, Sedlmayr shows how the landscape garden, the architectural monument, and the industrial exhibition testified to a new relationship not only between man and his handiwork but also between man and the forces that transcend him.

In these institutions man deifies his inventive powers with which he hopes to master and supersede nature. Likewise, the art museum denies transcendence through a cultural leveling in which "Heracles and Christ become brothers" as objects of aesthetic contemplation. At the center of Art in Crisis is the insight that, in art as in life, the pursuit of unqualified autonomy is in the end a prescription for disaster, aesthetic as well as existential. Sedlmayr writes as an Augustinian Catholic. For him, the underlying motive for the pursuit of autonomy is pride. The "lost center" of his subtitle is God. The dream of autonomy, Sedlmayr argues, is for finite, mortal creatures, a dangerous illusion. The book invites serious analysis from art critics and theological thinkers alike.

Hans Sedlmayr (1896-1984) was a founding member of the New Vienna School of art historians. His books include The Architecture of Borromini, The Revolution of Modern Art, and Austrian Baroque Architecture.

Roger Kimball is co-editor and publisher of The New Criterion and president and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is The Rape of the Masters: How Political Correctness Sabotages Art.
The spellbinding story, part fairy tale, part suspense, of Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, one of the most emblematic portraits of its time; of the beautiful, seductive Viennese Jewish salon hostess who sat for it; the notorious artist who painted it; the now vanished turn-of-the-century Vienna that shaped it; and the strange twisted fate that befell it.
 
The Lady in Gold, considered an unforgettable masterpiece, one of the twentieth century’s most recognizable paintings, made headlines all over the world when Ronald Lauder bought it for $135 million a century after Klimt, the most famous Austrian painter of his time, completed the society portrait.
 
Anne-Marie O’Connor, writer for The Washington Post, formerly of the Los Angeles Times, tells the galvanizing story of the Lady in Gold, Adele Bloch-Bauer, a dazzling Viennese Jewish society figure; daughter of the head of one of the largest banks in the Hapsburg Empire, head of the Oriental Railway, whose Orient Express went from Berlin to Constantinople; wife of Ferdinand Bauer, sugar-beet baron.
 
The Bloch-Bauers were art patrons, and Adele herself was considered a rebel of fin de siècle Vienna (she wanted to be educated, a notion considered “degenerate” in a society that believed women being out in the world went against their feminine “nature”). The author describes how Adele inspired the portrait and how Klimt made more than a hundred sketches of her—simple pencil drawings on thin manila paper.
 
And O’Connor writes of Klimt himself, son of a failed gold engraver, shunned by arts bureaucrats, called an artistic heretic in his time, a genius in ours.
 
She writes of the Nazis confiscating the portrait of Adele from the Bloch-Bauers’ grand palais; of the Austrian government putting the painting on display, stripping Adele’s Jewish surname from it so that no clues to her identity (nor any hint of her Jewish origins) would be revealed. Nazi officials called the painting, The Lady in Gold and proudly exhibited it in Vienna’s Baroque Belvedere Palace, consecrated in the 1930s as a Nazi institution.
 
The author writes of the painting, inspired by the Byzantine mosaics Klimt had studied in Italy, with their exotic symbols and swirls, the subject an idol in a golden shrine.
 
We see how, sixty years after it was stolen by the Nazis, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer became the subject of a decade-long litigation between the Austrian government and the Bloch-Bauer heirs, how and why the U.S. Supreme Court became involved in the case, and how the Court’s decision had profound ramifications in the art world.
 
A riveting social history; an illuminating and haunting look at turn-of-the-century Vienna; a brilliant portrait of the evolution of a painter; a masterfully told tale of suspense. And at the heart of it, the Lady in Gold—the shimmering painting, and its equally irresistible subject, the fate of each forever intertwined.
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