The Met Breuer's New Show Explores Nudes and the Man Who Collected Them

'Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele, and Picasso' offers three different approaches to one intimate subject.
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It has been 100 years since the deaths of Gustav Klimt and his protégé, Egon Schiele, yet their popularity, like many 20th century masters, remains strong. It’s no wonder the Met Breuer is exploring their most evocative (and provocative) pieces in a new exhibit, Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele, and Picasso from the Scofield Thayer Collection

50 works from the Met’s Scofield Thayer collection, the show touches upon more than just the nature of nudity. Obsession delves into the details into a greater sense of intimacy between artists and the work they create—and possibly, why we can’t stop looking.

Scofield Thayer himself was a fascinating individual. An American poet who studied at both Harvard and Oxford, he amassed his art collection quickly (between 1921 and 1923), gathering works from London, Paris, Berlin, and Vienna—all while he was a patient of Sigmund Freud. He was also the co-publisher and co-editor of the avant-garde literary journal The Dial, making him something of a champion of forward-thinking artisans.

Thayer’s full collection—some 600 pieces—first came to the museum 34 years ago, after he passed away. But it was bequeathed to the institution much earlier (in 1925) after it was poorly received when a portion of it was put on view Worcester Art Museum in Massachusetts the year before. “He was a very complex, strange man,” curator Sabine Rewald informed L’Officiel.

By the late 1920s, Thayer ceased working with The Dial and became a recluse. In 1937 he was declared insane. Though his mental health was shaky, his skills as a collector were sharp. During his prolific Vienna shopping spree, he was able to acquire his Klimt and Schiele pieces cheaply. 

But despite the deals, Picasso was his favorite—and was also the only one of the three whom he actually met (Klimt and Schiele died three years prior). It should be noted that Obsession marks the first time the works of all three men have been shown together, another selling point for the Breuer.

Of course what will ultimately attract audiences is the art itself, much of which has not been seen in decades. 

“We haven’t shown these Klimt drawings for some 20, 30 years. Drawings always live in black boxes in storerooms because they can’t be exposed to light,” Rewald said, explaining why most people aren’t as familiar with Klimt’s drawings as they are with his paintings, despite the fact that the artist created upwards of 3,000 of them. “When he was in his studio, he was surrounded by many, many models…when he saw a position of a model who fell unobserved that he liked, he would just draw her.”

Schiele was an equally voracious worker. “He had appointments with some 30 models a day, which is quite a bit,” Rewald mentioned of his schedule. “These artists were obsessed.” 

Few may be able to connect with the burning inner need to create, but from the selection of humble drawings, watercolors, and prints on view we can begin to grasp that the work that goes into becoming an iconic figure in the arts goes far beyond their greatest hits.

Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiel

Obsession: Nudes by Klimt, Schiele, and Picasso from the Scofield Thayer Collection is on view now at the Met Breuer, and runs through October 7. 

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