Séance: Albert von Keller and the Occult
October 9, 2010 – January 2, 2011
Fascinated by the mysteries of the human psyche, the Swiss-born painter Albert von Keller (1844–1920) is remembered today more for his spectacular subject matter than for his exceptional artistic ability. In fact, although Keller was a founding member of the Munich Secession, an influential artists’ association, and was highly regarded in Europe and America at the dawn of the twentieth century for his “modern” psychological painting, he has never before been the subject of a solo exhibition in America.
Keller’s close association with the Munich psychiatrist Dr. Albert von Schrenck-Notzing (1862–1929), and his participation in séances and occult experiments, placed him at the center of passionate debates in fin de siècle Germany on Seelenleben, or the life of the soul. While fascinated by the paranormal, Keller was equally enthralled by traditional Christian narratives such as the raising of the dead, the powers of mystical healing, and the mysteries of stigmata. He engaged in a lifelong search for new techniques and visual forms to describe shifting, uncertain states of being and becoming.
The Frye Art Museum’s exhibition showcases Keller’s enigmatic subjects—corpses, séances, dancers in trancelike states, martyred saints, and burning witches—to reveal a potent combination of religious fervor, mysticism, and sensuality. It presents key paintings by Keller from the Kunsthaus Zürich, whose collection was recently enriched by the remarkable gift of more than three hundred paintings by Albert von Keller from the estate of Swiss chemist Oskar A. Müller (1899–1994).
The exhibition and catalogue, which is published by the Frye Art Museum and distributed by the University of Washington Press, document for the first time the reception of Keller’s work in America; his participation in international exhibitions in Chicago, New York, and Saint Louis; and his presence in important private U.S. collections of German art. Highlighted are paintings from the late 1870s to the beginning of the First World War—a period marked by his scandalous elopement with a beautiful banker’s daughter, Irene von Eichthal (1858–1907); the tragic death of his only child; and the death of Keller’s wife in a state of profound grief, just months later.
Séance: Albert von Keller and the Occult is one in a series of research and exhibition projects at the Frye Art Museum celebrating the Munich Secession and its artists. The Frye Founding Collection, established by Charles and Emma Frye between 1909 and the 1930s, is an exemplary assemblage of paintings by leading artists of the Munich Secession and the generation that preceded it, the Künstlergenossenschaft.
The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue is available in the Frye Museum Store for $30.
"Séance, taken on its own, would fall comfortably within the Frye's parameters, given the strong presence of German art in its permanent collection. But this inspired pairing of shows [with Implied Violence] is something else again."