Tellig it like it is doesn’t always bring acknowledgement and admiration in today’s sensitive social media world (of which I am a paid up member). But in the case of Wilhelm Leibl’s art, it gave him a leading position in the realist movement of late 19th-century Germany. The Albertina Museum honours his output with an exhibition.
- Showcases Leibl’s realist paintings and drawings
- Runs Jan 31 – Jul 26, 2020
- All info in English and German
- Only needs a normal museum ticket or city sightseeing pass
- See also: Albertina – visitor & tickets info – selected past exhibitions
The Art of Seeing
(A copy of Wilhelm Leibl’s painting The Village Politicians by Ferdinand Leenhoff. Image courtesy of the Rijksmuseum)
The realist movement that began in France found a strong advocate in Wilhelm Leibl (1844-1900), with the great Gustave Courbet one of his biggest influences.
Although born in Cologne, Leibl spent most of his artistic life in Bavaria: in Munich and then later in the countryside. There he created, for example, his famously everyday scenes of peasant life, and gained wide appreciation for his stark, truthful portrayals of real people. Apparently, Van Gogh was an admirer.
Vienna offers two tributes to the artist. The first is the rather permanent Wilhelm-Leibl-Gasse: a street in Vienna’s 13th district. The second is a temporary exhibition of Leibl’s works at the Albertina museum.
The roughly 60 items on show include Leibl’s paintings, as well as his charcoal and chalk drawings. So you’ll find, for example, the 1891 mixed-medium Self-Portrait, dominated by blacks and greys that make him look like he might step out of a Red Dead Redemption playthrough. Or the 1876 Girl with White Headscarf where the subject glances skeptically at the painter.
Leibl might well have looked on our Instagram culture with dismay. One of the quotes featured in the Albertina’s exhibition is this one to Julius Mayr:
One should not think that I want to paint what is ugly. I just want to paint what is true, and that’s considered ugly because one is no longer accustomed to seeing anything that’s true.
As well as drawing on the Albertina’s own collection of several dozen Leibl works, the exhibition includes loans from throughout Europe and the USA (from both museums and private collections).
The portraits of peasants have a curious neutrality to them. Leibl does not present them in an idyllic country sense. Nor does he expose the reality of peasant life at the end of the 19th century.
Instead, you see faces and stances that hint at emotions or narratives that we’ll never know. But Leibl’s works certainly reveal lives that are clearly lived with a validity no less than in those of the aristocrats, intellectuals and sponsors of art commonly found in older portrayals.
Dates and tickets
How to get to the exhibition
The museum sits among the great conclave of top sites around Vienna’s centre, so is easily spotted on your walking tours of the old town. For travel tips, see the main Albertina article. Don’t forget to take a photo of the Staatsoper from the terrace in front of the main entrance.
Address: Albertinaplatz 1, 1010 Vienna