Around 1900, a small group of influential patrons, critics, writers, and artists turned Weimar, the capital of the small Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach in present-day Germany, into a utopian centre of modern art and thought. Artists like Max Klinger, Edvard Munch, and Ludwig von Hofmann, and writers like André Gide, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, and Rainer Maria Rilke sought to create a “New Weimar” and position Friedrich Nietzsche at its head as the radical prophet of modernity. Nietzsche’s profound thinking, expressive language, and poignant aphoristic style made him the ideal philosopher of modernism. “It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified.” With philosophical maxims, such as this from The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche became an extraordinary influence on artists and critics in their search for a “new art,” a “new man,” and, ultimately, a “new society.”
In 1902, two years after the philosopher’s death, Max Klinger was commissioned to carve his portrait for the Villa Silberblick in Weimar, where the cult of Nietzsche was organized. Starting from a heavily reworked death mask, he executed the famous marble herm that still today adorns the reception room of the Nietzsche Archive. Only three monumental bronze versions were cast, one of which is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada. With this sculpture in focus, accompanied by a series of paintings, drawings, plaster casts, and small bronzes, Radical Modernismwill show how Klinger and his patrons invented the “official” Nietzsche, transforming a highly expressionist portrait into an idealized classical cult image. The exhibition and this catalogue will also include a comprehensive series of early editions of Nietzsche’s most influential books including luxury editions of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Ecce Homo, and Dionysian Dithyrambs designed by Henry van de Velde. Finally, it will bring together work by the other protagonists of the “New Weimar,” including Auguste Rodin, Aristide Maillol, Edvard Munch, and Kurt Stoeving, in order to shed light on this extraordinary artistic and cultural constellation of modernism for the first time in North America.
Sebastian Schütze has been a long-standing research fellow at the Bibliotheca Hertziana (Max-Planck-Institut for Art History) in Rome. He is a member of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, a member of the scientific board of the Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Filosofici in Naples, and the Institute européen d’histoire de la République des Lettres in Paris. From 2003 to 2009 he held the Bader Chair in Southern Baroque Art at Queen’s University in Kingston. Currently he is Professor of Early Modern Art History at the University of Vienna.