National Gallery's Facing the Modern stars Klimt and Schiele

Oct 9, 2013

This fascinating, bewildering show offers a portrait of Vienna's sinister fin-de-siecle society

What you need to know

A new exhibition of Viennese portraiture has opened at the National Gallery. Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 focuses on the importance of portraiture in the rise of modern art during the fin-de-siècle period in the Austrian capital from 1867 to 1918.

The show features well-known portraits by Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka and Arnold Schonberg as well as work by lesser-known artists including Broncia Koller and Isidor Kaufmann. Highlights include Schiele's The Family and Klimt's Portrait of a Lady in Black. Runs until 12 January 2014.

What the critics like

Far from the glittering world of the popular cliché, this is a "complicated, probing and philosophically fascinating" show, says Rachel Campbell-Johnston in The Times. It is less a survey of artistic developments than a portrait of a city that exposes a society that is darkly sinister and drawing towards crisis.

Facing the Modern is "original, inquisitive and courageous" in the way it explores an area of art history that has rarely been examined before, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. Many of the pictures in this exhibition are of the highest possible quality and those that are not help us understand how the luxuriant flowering of painting in fin-de-siècle Vienna came about.

Schiele and Klimt are undoubtedly the stars of this "bewildering and fascinating" show, says Adrian Searle in The Guardian. This is an exhibition of Freud's smug, overwrought, fraught, suicidal town, more than an exhibition of great portraiture.

What they don't like

The pity is that "with so many wonderful pictures this show could have been unforgettable" instead of confusing, says Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph. The National Gallery should rehang the entire exhibition chronologically, with clearer labelling - as it is now, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has been squandered.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

For how long does this exhibition run?

12 January...