Born in Vienna Austria in 1948, much of Gottfried Helnwein’s work is informed by his personal experiences growing up in post-war German speaking countries. The Austria of Helnwein’s youth was unwilling or perhaps incapable of coming to terms with their early and eager embrace of Hitler and Nazism during the Anschluss or “Annexation” of Austria by Germany in 1938. The recent past was ignored and rarely addressed. Some even argued that Austria was occupied by Germany, a victim rather than a compliant and willing participant in Germany’s crimes.
The image of the wounded child figures prominently in Helnwein’s work (they are scarred physically or emotionally). Helnwein’s children embody the innocent victims of human brutality and enables Helnwein to confront viewers with the reality of the human condition. The children that populate his images, are cast in beautiful light and rendered in painstaking detail. At first glance the works appear to be merely intimate and beautiful images of children, but closer observation reveal some unsettling details. Helnwein uses the beauty of the child to disturb our general indifference to human suffering and exploits our, hopefully, inherent difficulty in grasping and accepting a child in pain.
Helnwein’s works may be found in a variety of museum collections around the world, including LACMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Denver Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden as well as several other art museums in Germany. Helnwein is included in a number of private collections and counts several celebrities (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ben Kingsley, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Nicholas Cage, and Marilyn Manson) among the collectors of his works.