Ernst Fuchs is considered as one of the finest artists to emerge from Austria, iconic for his fantastical, surreal works. His contribution to the furtherance of new, exciting art styles is incredible, spanning across different artistic mediums and including the establishment of new cultural centres for art.
Fuchs' artistic education began at the St Anna Painting School in his hometown of Vienna. Here, he was taught by Fritz Frölich (1910-2001), a surrealist much inspired by Pablo Picasso. This must have sown the seeds of the surreal in Fuch’s mind. These seeds began to sprout and grow with gathering pace when he attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. He was introduced to the Art Nouveau work of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and befriended like-minded artists such as Arik Brauer (1929-2021). The call of the strange and surrealist was luring him in, speaking in convincing tones to his artistic tendencies. Fuchs answered.
Along with Brauer and a number of other artists, Fuchs established the School of Fantastic Realism in Vienna in 1946. Such a term was the only one suitable to describe the style of art they were creating. These artists were going beyond the surrealists, not divorcing the surreal from the everyday, but instead incorporating the conscious and subconscious. Fuchs described his painting style as if entering a ‘trance.’ He would become ‘immersed into unknown grounds of my fantasy.’ Dreams and wakefulness meld together like silver and gold in his work, the fused final products gloriously rich paintings of a psychedelic, heightened realism.
His figures of women have their features emphasised, enhancing their beauty whilst settling them comfortably within lurid, neon-bright scenes.
Men often appear in a more grotesque nature, evoking the anatomical sketches of Leonardo Da Vinci, heart beating above their breast, muscles carved like stone, heavy shadows stark against the tormented skin. Indeed, the old masters were a source of inspiration for Fuchs in medium as well as image. Fuchs revived the process of laying down tempera, an eggy mix, and then overlaying a glaze of oil paint in order to achieve a vivid, luminous effect.
There is a sense of the uncanny, too, in Fuchs’ drawings and sketches. Whilst lacking the vivid colour palette, they retain an odd atmosphere. A woman lounges, staring the viewer down with baleful, wide eyes, heavily shadowed. Her posture is doll-like, the shape of her curves enhanced, her leg leading off the side of the page in a strange position. She is both alluring and disturbing. Human and yet eldritch, a siren.
Fuchs’ work was much influenced by his religious beliefs. His father had been Jewish, and although his mother had baptised him as a Roman Catholic to spare him from Nazi persecution, Fuchs honoured both religions. He regularly explores themes of both the Christian and Jewish faiths, depicting tales from the Bible such as Adam and Eve, and scenes of Jerusalem made a divine temple of pure spirituality. Indeed, Fuchs even went so far as to decorate the Apocalypse Chapel in Klagenfurt. It is an incredible sight, as if the dramatic symbolism of the pre-Raphaelites has been inverted and shaken up, neon colours blazing on a cobalt blue background.
Spirituality and the mythological were also popular themes throughout Fuchs' life. God's figure as figurative spectacles of shedding skin and bony benevolence. This focus on stories just out of reach of reality and yet grounded within human culture is fitting for his style, sitting, as it does, in that unknown space between sleeping and awake.
Despite travelling and living abroad for many years, predominantly in France and Israel, Fuchs was keen to support the art world in his homeland. When he reached the dizzying heights of international recognition in the 1960s, he ensured his success also benefitted Austria. Fuchs founded the Galerie Fuchs-Fischoff to support young artists fascinated by Fantastic Realism. He also purchased a derelict villa once owned by Austrian architect Otto Wagner (1841-1918) and painstakingly restored it to serve as a museum for his art. Summoning the likes of Klimt, Vienna had long held a reputation for being the birthplace of modern art. Fuchs certainly ensured this legacy was cemented, as his work has done much to contribute to the artistic culture of Austria.
Alongside the visual arts, Fuchs also had an interest in sculpture and architectural design. He executed many fine sculptures during the course of his career, which were as lauded as his paintings. He also published a book on the architectural form. Furthermore, the arts of the stage did not escape his passion and devotion. Later in his career, he designed sets and costumes for the grand operas which remain Austria’s crowning glory.
Clearly, Fuchs covered extremely varied mediums as he chased the creativity which inspired him in waking and in dreams. His legacy is assured, his fingerprints are all over the Austrian art scene, and indeed, internationally, too. Fuchs was honoured with being one of the first European artists whose work was exhibited in Russia. Such a contribution was recognised in Austria and further afield with official medals of honour. His contribution to the art world is imprinted in just as vivid colours as his works.
Born in Vienna, Austria.
Studied at the St Anna Panting School under Fritz Fröhlich.
Began studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Vienna.
Founded the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism.
Moved to Paris.
Founded the Galerie Fuchs-Fischoff.
Moved to Israel.
Returned to Vienna.
Awarded the City of Vienna Prize for Visual Arts. Acquired the Otto Wagner Villa, began restoring.
Otto Wagner Villa inaugurated as the Ernst Fuchs Museum.
Began work on the Apocalypse Chapel, Klagenfurt, Austria.
Exhibited for the first time in Russia.
Awarded the Order of the Arts and the Letters.
Awarded the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art.
Awarded the Grand Decoration of Carinthia and Golden Medal of Honour for Services to the city of Vienna.
Died in Vienna.