Dr John Blythe

Department of Art History, Curating and Visual Studies
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

PhD Title: Schoenberg and Identity
Supervisor: Dr Camilla Smith
PhD History of Art


Arnold Schoenberg [1874-1951] is primarily known now as a composer and musicologist, but in the period in Vienna before the First World War he was also a painter, associated with the blaue Reiter of German Expressionists.

The complexity of Schoenberg's identity, or rather identities, is a reflection of the dynamism of Viennese culture pre-1914: Schoenberg articulated a wide range of influences, including Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk, proto-Freudianism and Symbolism, as well as Expressionism.

His paintings include portraits, landscapes and stage designs, but the most striking are the self-portraits, Visions and Gazes, which anticipate a form of abstraction, which is unique to Schoenberg. Schoenberg was not a trained painter; his inspiration was found in the philosophies and literature of the nineteenth century - he was widely read- and the music of his time, notably Wagner, Brahms and Liszt.

As a composer of often contentious works, Schoenberg is often credited with the emancipation of dissonance, which was seen by some, notably Kandinsky, as being analogous to the discovery of abstraction in painting. Schoenberg was a Jew, who converted to the Lutheran Church, rather than the Roman Catholic Church, the state religion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his life after 1914 exemplifies the all too common story of German persecution, before escape to American exile.