A monumental bronze bust portraying the famous German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) – one of only three large-scale bronze copies in the world – is the central work in the new exhibition in the Masterpiece in Focus series, which opens at the National Gallery of Canada on Thursday, April 18, and will be on view until August 25, 2019. Made around 1904 by Max Klinger (1857–1920), one of the most celebrated German artists of his day, the sculpture was donated to the National Gallery of Canada 20 years ago.
Titled Friedrich Nietzsche and the Artists of the New Weimar, the exhibition places the bust in its historical and cultural context at the turn of the 20th century. The exhibition sheds light on a pivotal period in Germany, one in which the élite were looking for new social, political and moral points of reference as well as new aesthetic forms of expression in all artistic disciplines.
Conceived by Dr. Sebastian Schütze, Dean of the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies and Professor of the History of Art at the University of Vienna, Austria, the exhibition highlights the leading role played by Count Harry Kessler (1868–1937), beginning in 1895, in promulgating Nietzsche’s iconography and reputation internationally. It was Kessler who, two years after the philosopher’s death in 1900, commissioned Max Klinger to create Nietzsche’s official portrait.
The curator has gathered 34 works – drawings, prints, paintings and bronzes – to put the bust of Friedrich Nietzsche in context. Also included is a series of rare luxury editions of Nietzsche’s most influential writings. Loans are coming from the collections of the Alte Nationalgalerie (Berlin, Germany), the Munch Museum (Oslo, Norway), the Harvard Art Museums and the Harvard Library (Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.), the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Klassik Stiftung (Weimar, Germany), the Museum der bildenden Künste (Leipzig, Germany), the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto (Toronto, Canada); as well as from the National Gallery of Canada’s own collection.
The exhibition is centred around three themes: Count Harry Kessler and the Artists of the New Weimar, featuring works of artists the patron and art collector admired; Henry Van de Velde and the Nietzsche Archives, that includes examples of the work of the Belgian architect and art reformer, as well as a fervent reader of Nietzsche who was entrusted with the redesign of the building that housed the Nietzsche Archives; and Nietzschean Iconography, presenting portraits and representations of the philosopher commissioned either by Harry Kessler or Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, the philosopher’s sister.
Among the key works on view in Friedrich Nietzsche and the artists of the New Weimar are Portrait of Count Harry Kessler, 1906, a painting by Edvard Munch (1863–1944); several writings by Nietzsche – Ecce Homo, 1908; Thus Spoke Zarathustra, 1908; and Dionysian-Dithyrambs, 1914 – with ornate book bindings designed by Henry Van de Velde (1863-1957), who became Director of the Weimar School of Applied Art in 1902; and works created by avant-garde artists such as Auguste Rodin, Pierre Bonnard, and Aristide Maillol who were particularly praised in Weimar by Count Kessler and his contemporaries.
The “New Weimar”
Capital of the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach in central Germany, Weimar became the cradle of German modernity in the late 1890s when a small group of eminent patrons, artists and writers came together to create a cult around the personality of Friedrich Nietzsche, who was still alive but had fallen into a troubled mental state.
Attracted to Nietzsche’s writings, these admirers of the philosopher saw in him an icon of Germany’s entry into modernity, and harnessed the cult of Nietzsche to transform Weimar into an avant-garde and cosmopolitan hotspot of modernism: the “New Weimar.”
"The exhibition presents a unique group of artists, from Klinger, Munch and van de Velde to Rodin, Maillol and Bonnard, and brings to life the extraordinary cultural and artistic atmosphere of the New Weimar. A key chapter in the history of modernism, which is characterized by a highly productive dialogue between Nietzsche’s philosophy and the figurative arts." – Sebastian Schütze, Exhibition Curator and Dean of the Faculty of Historical and Cultural Studies and Professor of the History of Art at the University of Vienna, Austria
"This refined dossier exhibition exemplifies the Gallery’s commitment to explore unchartered territories of art history. We are grateful to the exhibition curator Sebastian Schütze for allowing us to bring to our audience original perspectives on the seminal albeit little-known aesthetic phenomenon of the New Weimar and in particular, on Count Kessler’s vision to establish the city as Europe’s center of modernism.” – Anne Eschapasse, Co-interim Director & CEO, and Deputy Director, Exhibitions and Outreach, National Gallery of Canada
About Friedrich Nietzsche
Born into a family of pastors on October 15, 1844 in Röcken, Prussia, Friedrich Nietzsche won a university scholarship to study theology and philology with a view to becoming a pastor himself. However, he broke with the family tradition and abandoned theology. Unsure what career to pursue, he immersed himself in the writings of the great philosophers – Schopenhauer, Kant, Hegel and Lange in particular – searching for answers. In 1866, at the young age of 24, he was appointed professor of philology at the University of Basel in Switzerland. It was during that period that he met and befriended Wagner. In 1870, while he was living in Basel, Prussia, seeking to unify Germany, went to war. Nietzsche was not drafted as he had had to give up his Prussian citizenship when he took the position in Switzerland. However, to fulfil his duty as a German, he did become involved in the war, transporting cash and the injured.
His first book, The Birth of Tragedy, in which he proposed a solution to the enigma of Greek tragedy, was published when he was 27 years old.
Nietzsche gave up teaching in 1878 due to ill health and travelled continuously especially in Italy, France, and Switzerland. Over the following decade, he published a number of books that would become his major works outlining his ideas on such topics as morality, Christianity, the future, and modern society. He died at the age of 56 on August 25, 1900 in Weimar, after living with dementia for the last ten years of his life.
After his death, his ideas on the advent of the superman and his powerful aphorisms won him followings among people from a wide range of schools of thought, including the Nazis, who would appropriate and distort his ideas to suit their ideology.
To learn more about the bronze bust of Friedrich Nietzsche by Max Klinger in the National Gallery of Canada’s collection, read the article titled “Beware lest a statue slay you”: Nietzsche and Art in New Weimar, now online in NGC Magazine and visit the exhibition’s webpage in the Gallery’s website.
Thursday, April 18, from 10 am to 5 pm, NGC Members will have exclusive access to the exhibition. Interpreters will be on site from 1 pm to 3 pm to answer their questions. Learn more about NGC Membership.
Meet the Expert: Sebastian Schütze
Thursday, April 18, from 6 pm to 7 pm, the exhibition curator, Sebastian Schütze, will explain how the bust at the center of the exhibition has contributed to elevate Nietzsche’s status as a cult hero. In gallery C218. In English with bilingual questions period. Free admission.
For media only: To plan an interview, obtain images, or more information, please contact:
Senior Media and Public Relations Officer
National Gallery of Canada
[email protected] / 613.990.6835