The Walter Wüthrich Collection
The world‘s most extensive and clearly presented collection of paintings by the Austrian painter Franz Josef Widmar in a permanent exhibition forms the core of the Brasilea Foundation. Until now, there has been no comprehensive survey of the artist‘s more than 500 works. This publication is the first to present a large selection of paintings by Widmar from the Wüthrich Collection. It is meant to satisfy the need for a representative crosssection of the multifaceted oeuvre of Franz Josef Widmar while at the same time providing access to the Foundation‘s collection in order to promote the intensive and continuous study of a body of works that until now has enjoyed little recognition.
Any discussion of Franz Josef Widmar‘s artistic works necessarily raises the question of how to approach an oeuvre which at first sight does not have a recognizable personal style and which instead is primarily characterized by constant change from one style and genre to another. A survey of the collection of paintings is in some ways like a cross-section of the art history of the past 150 years. There is hardly a style that Widmar did not explore in the course of his artistic career, hardly a genre he was not interested in, hardly a technique he did not try his hand at. But when we attempt to understand the motivation of an artist or the basis for the artist‘s actions within a body of work, the first thing we do is try to identify constants, fixed elements that make it possible to establish a pattern that sheds light on his or her artistic development and technical and intellectual capacity. The concept that an artistic oeuvre has a ‚soul‘ is based on precisely these defining characteristics, which are inextricably tied to the artist‘s very being. In Widmar‘s case, such efforts are above all thwarted by the lack of constancy in his work as far as stylistic characteristics are concerned and by the sometimes marked discrepancy in the quality of his paintings.
Franz Josef Widmar does not appear to have been interested in the ephemeral pursuit of theoretical discourse, but instead was looking for an underlying truth – a truth that never claims universal validity, a truth that establishes the closest conceivable relationship between the artist and its manifold conditions. Widmar‘s artistic approach, which always corresponded with his very unique concept of what it means to be an artist, is closely tied to his general living situation.
The constant financial support from a few friends seems to have made it possible for Franz Josef Widmar to get by with minimal, but sufficient, means. Nonetheless, it would be mistaken to claim that Widmar was nothing more than a commissioned painter. It appears that Widmar never paid much attention to his sometimes precarious economic situation. Throughout his life, he seems to have been content with the modest expectations of being able to paint and maintain a certain degree of freedom in this activity, but he never took these privileges for granted. In Rio de Janeiro, far from the cultural centres where art historic discourse is pursued with tremendous zeal and where artistic activities are increasingly relegated to an academic career, he was able to actualize his artistic vision.
Because we have hardly any concrete information on Widmar‘s (artistic) education, and because the earliest datable work in the collection is from the mid-1950s, it is hardly possible to determine whether Widmar ever adhered to a single style for an extended period. It is relatively easy to recognize the many different influences of various styles and eras in his work. What is far more complex, if not impossible, is any attempt to identify a hierarchy among these influences. Of course, some of his works are clearly inspired by Oskar Kokoschka and several other artists who were involved in the Vienna Secession and later in the Kunstschau group. Other paintings strongly recall Paul Klee or appear to draw very closely on the views espoused by the late Impressionists, to name just a few examples. Widmar‘s oeuvre is full of reminiscences, references, and borrowed styles. A list of the various different influences would inevitably read like a catalogue of artistic styles that could be arbitrarily expanded, or an enumeration of the most famous protagonists in painting in at least the last 150 years. But such an exercise would be self-serving at best and would contribute little to a deeper understanding of Widmar‘s oeuvre. The quantity and significance of the individual references make it seem obsolete to attempt to grasp his lifework with the aid of a hierarchically catalogued spectrum of various sources. In individual cases or in reference to isolated bodies of work such a methodology may well make sense, and it will in fact be addressed elsewhere. But in reference to his work as a whole, such an approach fails to do justice to the variety.
Instead, we need to accept the fact that for Widmar art history was a kind of ‚library of images‘. Every image – regardless of its artistic value – first and foremost represents an individual expectation of its author. An image, in other words, is the result of a task that a person takes on. It cannot have been Widmar‘s primary goal to develop his own style to the point that such style would have been his own, unmistakable in its visual appearance. He resorted to his own ‚library of images‘ the way others refer to a specific theory or a book for a certain task relating to a specific scientific theory. For Franz Widmar, the visualization of a definable, preconceived idea was primarily dependent on which style the artist would employ. The possibility of an artistic statement in a painting, then, was based on the range of stylistic potentials; for Widmar, the aspects of artistic talent, perception, and the inner conviction to find his own truth in the painting did not come into play until the second step. These various different levels can only be understood in a reciprocal relationship with each other, and it is only Widmar‘s tremendous talent that lends his paintings their genuine power of expression and a quality that can be far more than merely a reference. Such an approach is experimental in character by its very nature since an artistic practice founded on it always entails the repeated exploration of new territory. With these considerations in mind, we can more readily interpret the qualitative discrepancies in Widmar‘s oeuvre. The sometimes awkward quality in certain paintings is a result of the fact that Widmar was never satisfied and in the search for means of expression was never afraid to experiment with new styles and genres. The consequence, of course, is that not all paintings exhibit the same confidence in execution.
Widmar‘s artistic approach hardly corresponds to the conventional experience that the oeuvre of an artist ultimately represents a search for entirely unique strategies of representation. But this makes it all too easy to forget that after his emigration to Brazil Franz Josef Widmar worked in an environment that had very little in common with the artistic landscape in Europe and the US. Widmar absorbed the impressions and experiences from his time in Europe, and his work very clearly exhibits the lasting influence of his past. But it appears that the experimental character of his artistic activities can only be explained by the fact that in Brazil Widmar was not directly involved in ‚Western‘ discourse. In Rio, Widmar seems to have found the creative freedom that is so fundamental in his work. We hope this book will provide an impression of Widmar‘s tremendous creative diversity.
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