In 1931, Alois Gerstl showed a few paintings by his late brother, Richard, to Otto Kallir, who at the time owned and operated the Neue Galerie in Vienna. Richard Gerstl had committed suicide 23 years earlier, at the age of 25, and his surviving oeuvre had since been in storage. Immediately recognizing the talent of this unknown painter, Kallir agreed to restore the severely damaged paintings and to mount a one-person show. “Richard Gerstl: A Painter’s Fate” opened at the Neue Galerie on September 28, 1931, and proved an immediate sensation. Unfortunately, the Nazi takeover of Germany and then Austria arrested the spread of Gerstl’s reputation. However, he is today acknowledged, alongside Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, as one of Austria’s foremost modernists.
Kallir’s initial documentation of the Gerstl estate, which he photographed, catalogued, numbered and titled (with the assistance of Richard’s brother Alois), remains the most comprehensive record of the artist’s oeuvre. In 1974, Kallir assembled this information, along with first-hand biographical accounts by Alois Gerstl and the artist’s colleague Viktor Hammer, and published them in the bulletin of the Österreichische Galerie. In addition to the 63 items (some double-sided) that were in the original estate, Kallir’s 1974 “Documentation” includes four further paintings that the author knew and considered authentic.
Subsequent attempts to catalogue Gerstl’s oeuvre were made by Klaus Albrecht Schröder in 1993 and Raymond Charles Coffer in 2011. Schröder and Coffer, who both gave separate numbers to each side of double-sided works, came up with totals of 80 and 88 items respectively. Coffer’s 2011 publication offers the fullest account thus far of the artist’s life and posits the most plausible structure for dating the work.
Nevertheless, none of the above-cited publications can be termed a proper catalogue raisonné. Crucial provenance, exhibition and literature citations are missing from all. And dating the work remains problematical.
The Kallir Research Institute plans to compile the first comprehensive Richard Gerstl catalogue raisonné and publish it on a dedicated website. In cooperation with Raymond Charles Coffer, the Institute will supplement the 2011 catalogue entries with pertinent provenance, exhibition and literature citations. The Kallir Research Institute is also working with several museums that own Gerstl collections to scientifically test the paintings. Partners in this aspect of the project include the Kunsthaus Zug, the Leopold Museum and the Wien Museum. By analyzing Gerstl’s methods and materials, it should be possible to establish a logical developmental path and thereby more accurately to date the works.
The Kallir Research Institute does not presently issue opinions regarding the authenticity of works attributed to Richard Gerstl.