Gustav Klimt: Beyond the Female Form

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Klimt with His Cat

Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) was perhaps the most influential Austrian artist around 1900, but his legacy is often left only partly examined. Klimt is revered for his sensual and elegantly decorated depictions of the female form, but another genre also captured his interest: landscapes.

Klimt was a founding member of the Vienna Secession, a group formed in 1897 that sought to break from the binds of conservative organizations that dominated the Austrian art scene. The Vienna Secession believed that these prevailing organizations had become out of touch with the modern styles and art theories that had been circulating throughout Europe at the time. Klimt and his like-minded colleagues explored new aesthetic strategies not rooted in historicism but rather aimed at creating new styles that more aptly interpreted modern, industrial society. This mentality was characteristic of the broader movement of Art Nouveau.

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The Kiss

Many of Gustav Klimt’s most remembered and celebrated works are those depicting women, particularly his “Golden Phase,” a period of paintings in which he employed delicate, gold leafing. Klimt is quoted saying, “There is no self-portrait of myself. I am not interested in my own person—more in other people, females.” In fact, the female muse became somewhat of an obsession of his. Klimt was prolific in his paintings and sketches of women. His sketches reveal nude female models in a host of erotic positions, often portrayed as objects of purely sexual interest. His paintings offer a more stylized, and masked expression of this sexuality. These paintings highlight a central female figure, usually enveloped in a highly ornamented drapery of collaged shapes and colors. Almost all sense of depth is lost, with the figure and her surroundings flattened into a single plane of interlocking forms.

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The Hope II

But Klimt’s interest was not solely devoted to painting women. Beginning in the early 1890s, Klimt began taking annual summer trips to the shores of the Attersee Lake in upper Austria. It was here where Klimt developed a strong side interest in landscape painting, ultimately creating a body of work whose quantity and quality closely rivals that of his female portrait paintings. While Klimt’s landscape works stylistically draw more from impressionism and pointillism, much of the same detailed patterning and reduction of forms that characterize his paintings of women, is also evident in these more natural scenes. Klimt skillfully flattens the immense depth of the landscapes into a single surface of color, while intense flecks of paint create highly textured forms, reminiscent of the ornamented dress of his female figures. Often, this style distills the scene to a mood rather than an accurate depiction of the landscape.

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Unterach on lake Attersee

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Forester’s House in Weissenbach I

The two somewhat disparate genres that commanded Gustav Klimt’s interest, portraits and landscapes, were united by his unique approach to space and his aesthetic technique of ornamentation. While his female portrait paintings have garnered much of contemporary attention, Klimt’s landscapes reveal his love of the outdoors and offer an alternative view of the artist, a view worth taking.

 

Works Cited

Eskilson, Stephen. Graphic Design: A New History. 2nd ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Klimt Museum. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://klimt.com/.
“Gustav Klimt Biography.” Gustav Klimt – The Complete Works. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.klimtgallery.org/biography.html.
Leopold Museum. Accessed September 29, 2016. http://www.leopoldmuseum.org/en.

 

 

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Egon Schiele

egon_schiele_-_self-portrait_with_physalis_-_google_art_projectSchiele, Self-Portrait with Chinese Lantern Plant, 1912

Although the life of Egon Schiele was short lived, the number of works he created was quite prolific. Born in 1890 Austria, Schiele and his two sisters were raised by his father. His sister, Gertie, often modeled in the artist’s works. In school, Egon was encouraged to pursue formal training in the arts. After the death of his father in 1906, Schiele enrolled in the Akademie der bildenden Kunste, Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts, where Schiele’s future mentor, Gustav Klimt, also studied.

A year after enrolling in the school, Egon sought out Klimt as a confidant who in turn introduced Klimt to patrons as well as the work of other artists. Klimt also introduced Schiele to the Wierner Werkstätte, a division of the Vienna Secession that focused on unifying the arts and crafts. Two years later, Schiele was one of many students to leave the Academy. After leaving, Schiele explored new methods of painting and began to veer from his mentor’s artistic influence.

Egon, along with the rest of the artists that chose to leave the academy, began frequently exhibiting their works. As these exhibitions progressed, Schiele’s work began to mature. Subjects that he often explored were sexuality and self-portraits. Many critics considered the young artist’s work to be crude and vulgar. During this time, Schiele often used nude adolescents as models. This practice eventually led to his 24-day imprisonment in 1912 after being accused of raping an underage girl, his girlfriend at the time. Schiele ceased to using children as models but this did not put a damper on his sexually explicit artwork.

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Egon Schiele – Kneeling Nude with Raised Hands, 1910/ Nude Self-Portrait in Grey with Open Mouth, 1910

In addition to its graphic nature, Schiele’s work often portrayed distorted contours and angular human figures. His self-portraits, which inwardly explored the artist’s own turmoil, were no exception. Egon is nude in many of his self-portraits and he poses himself in vulnerable positions. The self-reflective aspect of Schiele’s portraits is considered to be a precursor to Expressionism, a movement that explores emotional experiences rather than an external environment. Schiele’s work garnered more attention when he was invited to participate in the Vienna Secession’s Forty-Ninth Annual Exhibit in March of 1918. Unfortunately, his career ended abruptly in October of that year, when he died due to the Spanish Influenza. Schiele was only 28 at the time of his passing yet the art he created throughout his career proved him to be one of the most productive and innovative artists of his time.

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“Total Art”within the Palais Stoclet

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The Palais Stoclet is a large private mansion located in Brussels, Belgium, designed by architect and designer Josef Hoffmann, prominent member of the Vienna Secession and one of the founding members of the Wiener Werkstätte (“Viennese Workshops”). Under Hoffmann’s supervision along with an elite team of artists and craftsmen of the Wiener Werkstätte, the palace was completed after 6 years of construction as an ideal realization of the “total work of art,” or “Gesamtkunstwerk,” which meant to unify the applied and fine arts.

The lavish home was built for Adolphe Stoclet, a wealthy banker, engineer and art collector. Adolphe placed no financial or aesthetic restrictions or specifications on the project, only that he wanted “nothing left to chance.” This gave Hoffmann and his team of collaborating artists, who were also prominent members of the Vienna Secession and Wiener Werkstätte, creative and stylistic reign to artfully compose every element of experience within the home, including the building’s façade, walls, flooring, furniture, light fixtures, gardens, flower beds, linens, silverware, artwork, and even accessories for the toilet.

The structure designed by Hoffmann features a geometric façade of white Norwegian marble, and an extensive team of collaborating artists of the Wiener Werkstätte contributed to the interior ornamentation and design, including Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Leopold Forstner, Carl Otto Czeschka, Franz Metzner, Richard Luksch, Michael Powolny, and George Minne. Klimt designed the large mosaic friezes surrounding the formal dining room table, with surrounding seats for 24 attendees. Every element within the interior has been meticulously crafted in a geometrically inspired pattern with the highest quality materials that money could buy, and in the case of Palais Stoclet, there was no limit to what they were willing to spend for a completely idealized living space.

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Orthogonal features and controlled curves within the design structure epitomize the influence of the Vienna Secession and the break away from historical tradition in architecture. Palais Stoclet was an innovative architectural accomplishment in 1911, and was an inspiration to other designers and a precursor to Art Deco and Modernism in architecture.

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Adolphe Stoclet and his wife passed away in 1949, leaving the home to their heirs by means of a shareholders association, which intended to keep everything intact and preserved. The palace remains private and blocked off from the public to-date, and has reportedly caused strife amongst the family members in recent years, who are struggling to hold on to the home as a private residence while maintaining the levels of conservation required to preserve this “Gesamtkunstwerk” masterpiece. Uninhabited since a family death in 2002, the house remains tucked away from the public eye, and even a lucky researcher that was granted access inside the home was not permitted to share the photographs with the public. Although elusive as it may seem, Palais Stoclet was recognized as a world heritage cite by UNESCO in 2009 for its high level of integrity in its authenticity, preservation, and the distinct new architectural style that embodies the totality of the Wiener Werkstätte. Since then, the Brussels regional government has drawn out a $1.7 million restoration plan to aid in conserving the site. Using such a large sum of taxpayer’s money to restore a private residence blocked off from the public has created reasonable controversy, although the future of the Palace remains uncertain. Eventually, the Stoclet family may open the doors as a museum, or if the home is defaulted to the government by some form of unforeseen circumstances, the palace will at least remain intact and preserved as if it were still 1911.

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The Stoclet House remains as one of the most comprehensive and complete emblematic achievements of the Wiener Werkstätte.

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Betsky, Aaron. “The Palais Stoclet Seduces.” Architect. The Journal of the American Institute of Architects, 04 Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Sept. 2016. <http://www.architectmagazine.com/design/the-palais-stoclet-seduces_o&gt;.

“Josef Hoffmann.” Neue Galerie New York. Ronald S. Lauder Neue Galerie New York, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.
<http://www.neuegalerie.org/collection/artist-profiles/josef-hoffmann#77&gt;.

“Stoclet House.” UNESCO, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, 27 June 2009, <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1298&gt;.

Wise, Michael Z. “An Enchanted House Becomes a Family’s Curse.” Architecture. The Wall Street Journal, 12 Feb. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2016.<http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052970204616504577172941334034970&gt;.