Continuing the great series of Melbourne Winter Masterpieces, this year’s European Masters features almost 100 works by 70 artists from the Staedel Art Museum in Frankfurt, one of Germany’s oldest and most respected museums. The works are here, exclusively to Melbourne, as a result of the host museum undergoing renovations.

What’s on offer is unlike most curated exhibitions, being works with a tight collective theme, but rather what it is, a selection of the Staedel’s permanent collection of some 2700 paintings, 600 sculptures and more than 100,000 prints and drawings. As such it has items from across two centuries, with a strong Germanic core and spanning all manner of styles. Unlike perhaps how the publicity posters feature it, this is not another Impressionists wonderland, with items from that genre limited to about a dozen. Nonetheless, real artistic treats await the visitor.

The exhibition opens with Tischbein’s Goethe in the Roman Campagna from 1786, perhaps paying homage to Frankfurt’s son, regarded by many as Germany’s finest author. Amongst the Impressionist works is the stand out Renoir, La Fin du Dejeuner, though just what its meaning is remains unclear. The only artist with a true focus throughout is Max Beckmann. Born in 1884, Beckmann was profoundly affected by his involvement in World War 1 that altered his traditional depictions to distortions of both figures and space. These changes and many of his self and other portraits are featured in their own room. His Double Portrait (1923) portraying the wife and the mistress of the then director of the Staedel is notable if nothing else for its audacious subject matter.

As a tour through styles across 200 years, European Masters stands on its own. It certainly begs the question what will the next 100 years produce to match the upheavals and development of forms of this era. But, as a result, visitors will need to maintain an open mind and not allow their own preferences to prejudge works or rooms.  This is helped by copious notes on the audio guide that both explain the specific works as well as place paintings in their context of both the exhibition and art movements generally.

Another Melbourne art treat this winter.

Kryztoff Rating  4K