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  • Richard Gerstl

Familie Schönberg

The Schönberg Family

Oil on canvas
34.65 inch x 42.91 inch
Schenkung Familie Kamm, Zug/donation by Family Kamm, Zug 1969
Inventory number: B 166/0

The period of Richard Gerstls creative production spun just four years from 1904 to 1908. Like many of his fellow artists of the early 20th century he renounced conservative academic teaching and the aestheticisms of Jugendstil. The portrait of the Schönberg family painted in the summer of 1907 at the family’s country residence bears witness to the unmistakable radical style of painting already achieved by the loner Gerstl at young age of twenty-four. Although the family members sit in a row as for a photographic portrait Gerstl denies the portrait’s traditional claim to resemble its models and narrative involvement of those portrayed. Applied thickly to the canvas without the slightest graphic definition the swirls of paint become shapeless forms that dissolve and melt into one another only hinting at actual figures. Gerstl’s energetic pictorial gesture leads to a deliberately artless form. But it may also express the painter’s own inner struggle with the motif. His love affair with Mathilde Schönberg who finally returned to her husband ended with Gerstl’s suicide in November 1908. There is a close link between this personal crisis and Arnold Schönberg’s break with musical traditions. His Second String Quartet, opus no 10 completed in 1908 marks the dissolution of tonality in atonality and the transition to his expressionist period. As a quasi-biographical symbol the piece features a quote from the folksong “Oh Du lieber Augustin, Alles ist hin…” (Oh dear Augustin, it’s all over…) and a litany recited by Stefan George with the words: “Kill this desire, seal the wound, take this loving from me, give me your happiness.”