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Gustav Klimt. Photo exhibition catalogue Gustav Klimt - Painter of Women.


Gustav Klimt: Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907. Oil on canvas with gold and silver plating. 138 x 138 cm. Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. Photograph: exhibition catalogue. [added on July 18, 2006: The painting has been bought by Ronald Lauder from Maria Altmann for the Neue Galerie in New York for reported $135million after an arbitration court ruled in 2006 that Austria had to return several Klimt paintings to the heirs of the Bloch-Bauer family; Maria Altmann is a niece of Adele Bloch-Bauer].


Gustav Klimt: Liebe (Love), 1895. Oil on canvas. 60 x 44 cm. Vienna, Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien. Photograph: exhibition catalogue.


Gustav Klimt: Judith I, 1901. Oil on canvas with gold plating. 84 x 42 cm. Vienna, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. Photograph: exhibition catalogue.


Catalogue, English edition: Klimt's Women. [January 7, 2004: English edition out of stock or print. German edition from Amazon.de]. Catalogue (in German) by Tobias G. Natter and Gerbert Frodl, ed.: Klimt und die Frauen. Hardcover, DuMont, Cologne/Köln, 2000, 256 p. With essays on Klimt - a painter between ages, Vienna in 1900 - an ambivalent place of modern times, the fertile relation between Klimt and the Habsburg state, Klimt and the women, the relation between the painter and Alma Schindler, Klimt and female fashion, the artist and photography. - Gustav Klimt at Amazon.com - Gustav Klimt at Amazon.co.uk.

Gustav Klimt - Painter of Women
Biography and exhibition

Article added in November 2000

"Klimt und die Frauen" at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere Vienna, Austria, until January 7, 2001. Catalogue, English edition: Klimt's Women. [January 7, 2004: English edition out of stock or print. Get the German edition from Amazon.de]. On the right: Gustav Klimt; photograph: catalogue. Gustav Klimt at Amazon.com - Gustav Klimt at Amazon.co.uk.

Gustav Klimt
(1862-1918) was born in Vienna as the second child of Ernst and Anna Klimt. At the age of 15, he entered the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule (1876-83). He was supposed to become a drawing teacher, but professor Ferdinand Laufberger recognized his talent. Klimt was influenced by Hans Makart and his teacher Julius Viktor Berger. In his early work from 1883 to 1892, Klimt was closely associated with his brother Ernst and with Franz Matsch. They created stage curtains, decorative wall and ceiling paintings, e.g. for the Burgtheater and the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In 1893, Klimt began to work on his own. In 1897, Klimt was a cofounder and the first president of the "Vereinigung bildender Künstler Österreichs - Secession". Before the turn of the century, Klimt began to develop his distinctive neo-impressionist style. In 1899, he began to spend his summer holidays at lake Attersee every year, where he painted his most important sceneries. Around 1900, with his ornamented portraits of women, Klimt created a new type of picture. Women occupied the central place in his art. His portraits range from historicizing, to allegoric, mythological, erotic and classic. As with Judith I (see photograph below), women became icons. In 1900, a conflict about his works created for the University of Vienna made him largely leave the stage of public life and seek private customers. In 1907, the young Egon Schiele visited him for the first time in his atelier. A year later, Klimt held his protecting hands over Oskar Kokoschka and the expressionists, as, for the first time, they showed their works in Vienna. Klimt's late work showed abstract and expressionist elements. He died on February 6, 1918, at the age of 56.
 
The exhibition "Klimt und die Frauen" (Klimt - Painter of Women) at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna is a huge success with over 120,000 visitors until today. The museum hosts the world's largest collection of Klimt paintings, but the last special exhibition of the painter's work at the Belvedere dates back to his 100th birthday in 1962. In the mid-1980s, at the exhibition "Dream and Reality" at the Wiener Künstlerhaus, Klimt's paintings were for the last time presented in a special exhibition to the public in Vienna. The permanent collection was of course always accessible and the Belvedere generously lent its Klimt's to important exhibitions around the world, such as in Zurich in 1992, in Tokyo in 1996 and in Milan in 1999. "Klimt und die Frauen" presents the first virtually complete overview of Klimt's female portraits.



At the center of the exhibition is the painter's probably most important and best-known work group, the portraits of women. It is complemented by allegoric paintings such Judith I and II, The Kiss or Water Snake. Among over 100 exhibited paintings and sketches are also works of European and American precursors and contemporaries of Gustav Klimt such as Ferdinand Hodler, Edouard Manet, Edvard Munch, James McNeill-Whistler and John Singer-Sargent. Last but not least, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna lent the portrait of the Infant Maria Teresa by Diego Velazquez to the Belvedere. Klimt used it as a model for his portrait of Fritza Riedler (the wife of a university professor in Berlin). In Vienna, Klimt is presented in his (art) historic context.
 
"Klimt und die Frauen" goes beyond a classical art exhibition and tries to give answers about the personal life and social status of the women Klimt portrayed. At the turn of the century with the "emergence of modernity", fundamental social change gave women a new position in society, culture and ideology. The exhibition also focuses on the influence of the haute bourgeoisie, the so-called "Ringenstrassengesellschaft", named after Vienna's most famous street, on art. Their patronage became vital to the art scene. The myth and ideal of Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) is another aspect of the exhibition. A symposium as well as a series of lectures accompany "Klimt und die Frauen". A publication on Vienna's collector's of the turn of the century should result from the symposium and constitute the exhibition's contribution to art history.
 
With the Portrait of Sonja Knips in 1898, Gustav Klimt managed to become the portraitist of the Jewish haute bourgeoisie in Vienna who, since the Jews had reached legal equality in 1867, had become a thriving force in commerce, finance, industry and art. Klimt's patrons were financiers, industrials and other members of the liberal (in the European sense) haute bourgeoisie. Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer (see Klimt's portrait of his wife below) was dominating the Austrian-Czech sugar industry. Karl Wittgenstein, another of his patrons, was often referred to as the "Austrian Krupp" and the creator of the steel cartel. August Lederer was the leading figure in the alcohol business in Central Europe. In the 1920s, he was considered "the richest man in Austria after Rothschild".

The Secession, formed in 1897, aimed to bring Austrian art closer to the international art scene. Klimt was the leading figure of the Secession until 1905 when he resigned from the Art Nouveau artists' society. The Habsburg administration did not fight the new ideas, on the contrary, they embraced the avant-garde, commissioned works from them and offered posts to Secession artists. This was part of an effort by the Habsburg administration to modernize state, economy and society. The foundation of the Modern Gallery in 1903 as a museum for Austrian art since 1850 belongs in this context. In 1912, it got its current name: Österreichische Staatsgalerie. With the end of the monarchy, the museum's problem's were resolved by enlarging the exhibition space at the Upper and Lower Belvedere. In the year 1900, the Ministry of Education bought Klimt's Nach dem Regen, in 1901 Am Attersee II, in 1912 Bauernhaus and in 1915 twelve figurative sketches.
 
At the time of its creation, Klimt's painting Judith I, 1901 (on the left), was considered the incarnation of the femme fatale. In the Old Testament, Judith is a devout widow who captivated with her beauty the attention of the Assyrian leader who was a deadly menace to her people. At the meal in her honor he drank so much wine that he fell asleep before he could touch her. In his sleep, Judith killed him with his own sword, escaped with the help of a maid and helped the Israelites defeat the Assyrians who were now without a leader. In the Christian tradition, Judith was the allegory of the victory of chastity over vice and of humility over arrogance. At the beginning of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, she became the symbol of freedom, justice and just beliefs. In 1840, German poet Friedrich Hebbel reinterpreted the myth: Judith was still a widow, but a virgin because her husband had been impotent. Sexually frustrated, she was attracted by the Assyrian Holofernes and killed him as a personal vengeance. In Sigmund Freud's interpretation of 1917, Judith agreed with Hebbel: Judith killed the Assyrian because he had taken her virginity. Cutting of his head was, according to Freud, a symbol for Holofernes' castration. According to Daniela Hammer - the information on Judith comes from her catalogue essay - Klimt's portrait falls in the same category: She is a strong and independent woman who challenges male dominance, the femme fatale symbolizes an eternal truth. Despite the fact that Klimt wrote "Judith und Holofernes" on the portrait's frame, in 1905, at a Berlin exhibition, the painting was considered to represent Salome. To mix up such contrary figures like Judith and Salome has a long tradition in art history which dates back to the 16th century. Salome was responsible for the killing of St. John the Baptist. For the artists of the turn of the century, Salome and not Judith was the incarnation of the femme fatale. Gustave Moreau's painting inspired Oscar Wilde to his dramatic ballad of 1893. Judith's "subversive ambivalence" of the Renaissance in Klimt's painting largely gave way to a sensual and erotic optic: Judith is an icon of femininity. Whatever interpretation you prefer, one fact remains: Judith I of 1901 is not only one of Gustav Klimt's best paintings, it is one of the outstanding female portraits in art history.
Gustav Klimt at Amazon.com - Gustav Klimt at Amazon.co.uk.

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