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Thematic exhibition on the emergence of the Nietzsche cult at the turn of the 20th century in Germany opens
Edvard Munch, Portrait of Count Harry Kessler, 1906. Munch Museum, Oslo RES.A.219)

OTTAWA.- 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 opened 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 was looking for new social, political and moral points of reference as well as new aesthetic forms of expression in all artistic disciplines.

Organized 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 Klassic Stiftung (Weimar, Germany), the Museum der bildenden Kunst (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.”

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