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Author Topic: Alma Mahler and the missing Munch masterpiece
lagatta
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Babbler # 2534

posted 11 February 2006 03:34 PM      Profile for lagatta     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
This story contains a tragedy within a tragedy, like the painting in the article. The tragedy of the destruction of Jewish Vienna, one of the high points of Western culture, but also the tragedy of intelligent and talented women like Alma begged by her spouse to be "a wife, not a colleague". Thinking of this most Western manifestation of oppression disguised as love following upon Cueball's thread on racism, Middle Eastern people, and love.
Alma, the missing painting and the lost vocation
quote:

The first time Marina Mahler, granddaughter of the great composer Gustav and his talented, passionate wife, Alma, saw her grandmother's most beloved painting, she stayed still in front of it for a long time. "I felt I knew Alma for the first time. This was her favourite painting. It meant everything to her."
The work is Edvard Munch's hypnotic Summer Night on the Beach, which hangs in the Austrian Gallery, one of the gems of a world-renowned collection of early 20th-century art.
Alma Mahler was an extraordinary figure, who married not only Gustav Mahler, but later the founder of the Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, and the writer Franz Werfel. She was a gifted composer, but Gustav begged her to "be a wife, and not a colleague".
After the war, growing up in Los Angeles, Marina Mahler remembers a woman who was "luminous in a way I have never seen anyone else to be"; who awed the neighbours by appearing in the California hills dressed in black, draped in jewels and emerging from a chauffeur-driven car; whose home in New York was "dark and mysterious with chests and cupboards and signed photos everywhere, and intriguing drawers - and the musty smell of Mitteleuropa".
The fate of her favourite painting, however, haunted her until the end of her life. She never accepted it rightfully belonged to the Austrian Gallery and fought endlessly to retrieve it - and now her granddaughter has taken up the battle.

[ 11 February 2006: Message edited by: lagatta ]


From: Se non ora, quando? | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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Babbler # 478

posted 11 February 2006 04:06 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That history is so rich. We could talk about it all day. Tomorrow, too.

Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel. Famed in story and song. Obviously a magnificent woman, but you can see the nub of the psychological drama and trauma in this bit of the story:

quote:
her secessionist painter stepfather, Carl Moll (who had once presented Alma with a copy of Mein Kampf, and whom Alma called her "arch-enemy") was very much on the scene, as was her half-sister Marie Eberstaller. After Alma left in 1938, Moll removed the painting from the gallery without her approval - then, in 1939, he and Marie sold it back to the museum. But, Alma said, it was never theirs to sell.

If the stepfather I considered an "arch-enemy" had done that to me, I can imagine spending the rest of my life feeling hounded by the memory. (I'd love to know what happened to the old coot.)

I went looking for an image of the painting, and this is the best I can do. The title seems to be "Inger on the Beach (Summer Night)," or at least that's the best I can find so far. The Guardian story tells us:

quote:
It was a work with extraordinary emotional meaning for Alma. She was given it by her second husband, Walter Gropius, on the birth of their child, Manon. The painting became inextricably linked, for Alma, with her daughter's tragically short life: she died of polio aged 18. Much mourned, Manon was the dedicatee of Alban Berg's heart-stoppingly beautiful Violin Concerto. "No painting has ever touched me in the way this one has," Alma wrote in her autobiography, Mein Leben.

So some symbolic restitution must be made.

If I were in Marina Mahler's shoes, I would not want to be taking personal possession of the painting, thus taking it out of the public sphere where all great art, IMHO, belongs, but I would want justice. I would let it live in the Austrian Gallery - or some Vienna gallery - but with openly acknowledged tribute and thanks to Alma.

Vienna is a tragedy, isn't it, and still barely sorted out, all these years later. The Germans were wiser to face their demons right away. Austria: not such a good story.


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N.Beltov
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posted 11 February 2006 04:08 PM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Multi-generational tragic harmonics. Whose love merits most for the the missing Munch masterpiece?

[ 11 February 2006: Message edited by: N.Beltov ]


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skdadl
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Babbler # 478

posted 11 February 2006 04:16 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
*nervous cough*

Many North Americans of my vintage will know Alma through Tom Lehrer's affectionate (if, y'know, slightly smirky) tribute:

quote:
Last December 13th, there appeared in the newspapers the juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary it has ever been my pleasure to read. It was that of a lady named Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel*, who had, in her lifetime, managed to acquire as lovers practically all of the top creative men in central Europe. And, among these lovers**, who were listed in the obituary, by the way, which is what made it so interesting, there were three whom she went so far as to marry:

The song is endless fun, though, and you will be rewarded at that site with a photo of the luminous Alma.

quote:
And that is the story of Alma,
Who knew how to receive and to give.
The body that reached her embalma
Was one that had known how to live.

Alma, tell us,
How can they help being jealous?
Ducks always envy the swans
Who get Gustav and Walter,
You never did falter
With Gustav and Walter and Franz.



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N.Beltov
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posted 11 February 2006 04:22 PM      Profile for N.Beltov   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
(quietly) clap-clap.
From: Vancouver Island | Registered: May 2003  |  IP: Logged
skdadl
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Babbler # 478

posted 11 February 2006 04:29 PM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Well, except: as lagatta has lamented above, it doesn't sound as though Gustav, genius or not, was all that much of a prize for Alma.

How great is it to be married to a famous guy if that means that you must suppress your own soul and skills? Which seems to be part of what happened to Alma.

Lehrer's song is brilliant and funny - I laugh at it still - but it is very much a song of its time. I think a woman satirist would write that story differently now.


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