Herbert Boeckl Klagenfurt (Austria 1894-Vienna, 1966) is one of the most renowned artists in Austria, but has received little public attention internationally. He built on the achievements of the "Neukunstgruppe" (New Art Group) led by Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele to become an important contributer of Austrian expressive modernist painting in the 1920s.
Boeckl entered Vienna University of Technology in 1912 to study architecture and remained until 1914. During his stay, Boeckl became a private student of architect Adolf Loos. In 1915 Boeckl was drafted into the army and while on the front near Italy, he came into contact with the art historian Bruno Grimschitz. They remained lifelong friends, and Grimschitz supported Boeckl’s artistic ambitions.
After the war, Boeckl returned to Vienna, with no intention of continuing his architectural studies. Through his friendship with Grimschitz, he met the leading figures in Vienna’s post-war cultural life. A self-taught painter, Boeckl demonstrated in his early work the compositional influences of the Viennese Secession artists then in vogue. The works of Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka became enduring inspirations to him.
In 1919, he joined a group of young artists known as Noetscher School, whose members included Anton Kolig and Franz Wiegle. While working with this group, Boeckl placed greater importance on color and also mastered the gouachetechnique.
In 1920, thanks to a recommendation by Egon Schiele, Boeckl signed a lucratic promotional contract with the dealer Gustav Nebehay. The contract assured Boeckl of a monthly income and allowed him the freedom to travel. He spent several months in Berlin, where the revolutionary atmosphere and exciting artistic climate were, for Boeckl, invigorating. He met some of the Brücke artists at that time, a fact that is evident in a new conception of color and form in his work. Boeckl stayed in Berlin until 1922, but in 1924 moved on to Paris and Sicily where he was first exposed to Modern Art and confronted the work of the “classic” masters. He then painted a series of landscapes that indicated his debt to Cezanne and Matisse.
By the late 1920s, Boeckl began to gain public recognition. A retrospective of his work appeared at the Vienna Secession at the end of 1927 and at this time he began his move away from Realism to his own unique style of Expressionism using color as a central element. He painted a series of anatomical studies and also became interested in religious themes, painting several church frescoes. In 1934, he received Austrias State Prize and, in 1935, he was named Professor at the Vienna Academy.
With the Nazi takeover in 1939, he resigned his official position and began teaching the Academys evening life-drawing class. After the war, he was named rector of the Academy, a position he gave up in 1946. A major retrospective of his work opened at the Academy in 1946. Boeckl explored the possibilities of abstraction in the early 1950s, but he soon returned to a representational style. He spent 1952 to 1960 in the Austrian province of Styria creating one of his major works, the frescoes of the Anglican Abbey. In 1958, he received the Guggenheim International Award, (one of only a few instances of international recognition) and in 1960, the Klimt Award from Vienna Secession. In 1964 Boeckl was awarded the Gold Ring of Honor of the City of Vienna and the Arts & Sciences Gold Medal.
Sources: Lawrence University The Catalogue, Peter Selz- German Expressionist Painting, and www.austriantimes.at
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