Richard Gerstl, “Semi-Nude Self-Portrait”, 1902-1904, Oil on Canvas, 43 x 63 Inches Leopald Museum, Vienna
Early in his life, Gerstl decided to become an artist, much to the dismay of his father. After performing poorly in school and being forced to leave the famed Piaristengymnasium in Vienna as a result of disciplinary difficulties, his financially stable parents provided him with private tutors. In 1898, at the age of fifteen, Gerstl was accepted into the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, where he studied under the notoriously opinionated and difficult Christian Griepenkert. Gerstl began to reject the style of the Vienna Succession movement and what he felt was pretentious art.
Gerstl was known for his expressive psychologically insightful portraits, and his lack of critical acclaim during his lifetime. His highly stylized heads anticipated German Expressionism and his use of pastels emulated the works by Oskar Kokoschka, another Expressionist painter.
Gerstl, distraught over the ending of an affair with Mathilde Schoenberg, entered his studio during the night of November 4, 1908, burned every letter and piece of paper he could find. It is believed that a great deal of his artwork and personal papers were destroyed. After burning his papers, Geerstl hanged himself in front of the studio mirror and somehow managed to stab himself as well.
After his suicide at the age of twenty-five, his family took the surviving paintings to art dealer Otto Kallir, who organized a posthumous show of Gerstl’s work at Neue Galerie. The Nazi prescence in Austria hindered further acclaim of Gerstl; it was only after the wr that Gerstl became known in the United States. Only sixty-six paintings and eight drawings attributed to Gerstl are known.