Behind Every Exquisite Thing…

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Behind Every Exquisite Thing…

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

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Nowhere is this truer than in Tammam Azzam’s Freedom Graffiti. In 2013, the artist superimposed Klimt’s best known masterpiece onto a war-scarred building in Syria – an eloquent comment on the war in his home country, and a passionate plea for peace.

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Klimt’s original painting, (1907-08) took its inspiration from a line in Schiller’s 1785 poem, Ode to Joy: “This kiss is for all the world.” A very apt sentiment indeed in today’s political climate!

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Azzam’s early works were characterised by a multi-media technique. Using rope, clothespins and other recycled objects, Azzam’s hybrid pieces experimented with depth and were inspired by the artist’s changing perceptions of specific urban environments.

Following the start of the uprising in Syria, Azzam turned his attentions to digital media and graphic art. He created visual statements on the conflict, which resonate with international viewers, seeing digital photography and street art as powerful and direct forms of protest that are difficult to suppress.

Azzam has drawn on paintings by artists such as Matisse, van Gogh and Dali, in an effort to spread his message: “We are all citizens of the same world.”

 

Vienna Christmas Market

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Vienna Christmas Market

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Every December I’m always excited; that’s when the Christmas Market comes to town. Stalls selling pork shanks with dumplings, bratwurst and hot cherry wine – I’m in my element!

Then of course there’s the ferris wheel, shopping for all those lovely homemade gifts, and my favourite thing of all – the outdoor ice rink. Here’s me and my son enjoying our favourite winter pass time.

So when I wrote a novel set in Austria, I couldn’t resist the temptation to include a scene from the Viennese Christmas Market.

The Christmas markets in Vienna are an age-old tradition. The forerunners of the present-day events date back to 1298 when Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a December Market or “Krippenmarkt” – not a Christmas market as such: the first Christmas market in Vienna wasn’t until 1626.

The first records of a Christmas market mentioned temporary huts in front of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral, from which bakers, gingerbread vendors and confectioners sold their goods. This market was shut down in 1761.

The Christmas market was resurrected in 1764 when the Saint Nicholas and Christmas Market operated at the Freyung (1st District), moving to Am Hof in 1842.

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In 1903, the stands at the market were illuminated by electricity for the first time. The Christmas market had a home at Am Hof until World War I, when it closed down, starting again in 1923.

The Christmas market was closed down during World War I and in he bleak post-war years didn’t start again until 1923, when it was moved to Freyung, and later to the front of St. Stephens. After that, it moved to Neubaugürtel before returning to Am Hof from 1938 to 1942.

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Vienna Christmas Market, 1940

In 1943 the market was once again held at Stephansplatz.

Since then, the character and prevalence of these markets has changed considerably.

The Birmingham Christmas Market remains one of my favourite winter nights out. Cheers!

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The Women Friends

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The Women Friends

The Women Friends was one of Gustav Klimt’s final works. Nothing is known about the two women in the painting but it is believed they were a real couple.

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Gustav Klimt, (1917) The Women Friends

Lesbian imagery played a role in Klimt’s catalogue of works since his 1904 painting Water Serpents. But while the water serpents are imaginary creatures, inhabiting a fantastical, underwater world, the women friends are part of the here and now, making it easier for the audience to identify with them.

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Gustav Klimt, 1904, Water Serpents

Klimt’s 1913 painting, The Maidens also explores this theme. Here, womankind is shown with many different aspects to her identity of which sexuality is only one. She is entwined with other figures representing death and evolution into womanhood.

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Gustav Klimt, (1913) The Maidens

Stylistically, in The Women Friends, Klimt achieved a flat visual plane, throwing off the three-dimensional verisimilitude of his earlier career. His appreciation of Japanese art with its ambiguous background / foreground relationship influenced this painting and his mosaic style paintings from his golden phase.

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Gustav Klimt, (1907) Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer

Like so much of Klimt’s late work, the painting is partially about space and the various illusions that art creates to deal with it.

Gustav Klimt: Death and Life

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Gustav Klimt, (1910) Death and Life

Gustav Klimt’s painting Death and Life, (1910), features not a personal death but rather merely an allegorical figure who gazes at “life” with a malicious grin. The painting is comprised of two halves: on the left, the figure of Death is the classic grim reaper, a grinning skeleton, covered in a blue robe decorated with symbols. To the right are a group of women, at various stages of life, one of whom is held by a dark, muscular man, who is not entirely noticeable at first glance. This exemplifies Klimt’s preoccupation with the female form and his celebration of women as life-givers. All generations are represented in this circle of life, from the baby to the grandmother. The women do nor cower from Death, indeed they seem oblivious to him. The painting only depicts moments of intense pleasure and calm. Perhaps this new found serenity is rooted in Klimt’s own awareness of aging and his closeness to death.

Klimt described this painting as his most important figurative work. However, in 1915, he began making changes to the painting. The background, reportedly once gold-coloured, was painted over in grey, and both Death and the circle of women were given further ornamentation.

Much of Klimt’s work incorporates themes of death and life. In his 1908 painting, Hope I, for example, a pregnant woman stares out at the viewer, behind her, masklike faces symbolising madness, sorrow and death.

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Gustav Klimt, (1908) Hope I.

Death and Life was clearly influential for Klimt’s contemporaries among them Egon Schiele.

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Egon Schiele, (1915), Death and the Maiden

In Schiele’s painting, the woman appears to have crawled towards the figure of Death on her bended knees, and appears relieved as he embraces her.

Klimt himself may have drawn inspiration from the artist Edvard Munch, who created numerous representations of the relationship between life and death.

Above left: Edvard Munch, (1899) The Three Stages of Woman. Above right: Edvard Munch, (1894) Death and the Maiden.

Klimt’s original painting, Death and Life won the first prize at the World Exhibition in Rome in 1911. It remains one of the iconic images associated with this great artist.

Prostitution in Renaissance Italy: The “Necessary Evil”

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Great post on prostitution and same sex attraction from Dirty Sexy History.

Dirty, Sexy History

fig-1-brothel A 15th-century depiction of a brothel. You can imagine the man walking in saying, “Well, at least the prostitutes are women.”

In the wake of the fourteenth-century plague, which killed over half of Italy’s populations, cities were faced with a crisis. To make matters worse, Italian men seemed uninterested in repopulating the peninsula, struck by a sin worse than death—same-sex attraction. Fifteenth-century preacher Bernardino of Siena railed that “even the Devil flees in horror at the sight of this sin.”

Italian cities responded by encouraging prostitution. In 1403, the government of Florence opened an office to promote prostitution in order to prevent the worse sin of sodomy. Venice legalized prostitution in 1358 and created a brothel district in the commercial heart of the city, the Rialto.

fig-2-meretrice Cesare Vecellio’s “Public Whore” waves a flag and wears high-heeled chopines. (1598)

Prostitution was a reality of life in Renaissance Italy. But in spite…

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Klimt’s Forests and Gardens

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Klimt’s Forests and Gardens

Gustav Klimt is probably best known for his portraits of women. However, he also created many beautiful landscapes during his career.

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Gustav Klimt Fir Forest, 1901

Tannenwald or Fir Forest the first of several in a series. The artist also depicted other types of trees using contrasting styles over the course of his career.

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Gustav Klimt, Tree of Life, 1905

From his holiday home in Litzlberg, Klimt went for wandering around the woods for days on end, searching for the right spot to create his forest paintings. Here, the trees appear in groups on either side of the canvas; the small clearing in the middle to allowing a feeling of depth, albeit reduced, which draws the eye into the painting. The trunks are stylised: narrow with a strict vertical rhythm, suggesting entrapment – no way out; the glimpse of sky a whisper to the outside world. The series is as a study of how light and time affect natural objects. Tannenwald II, also painted in 1901 features a similar scene, with Klimt choosing to offer greater detail on the fir trees, and without the glade seen in his earlier work. Both paintings were completed in 1901.

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Gustav Klimt, Fir Forest II, 1901

Tannenwald I and II were produced on square canvas, which is relatively rare for landscape painting but reflects how the artist was aiming to produce art which suited for exhibiting at that time.

Klimt’s landscapes express his wider concerns with biological growth and the cycle of life. Their dazzling decorative surfaces and abstracted motifs align him with emergent modernist tendencies. He later experimented with various styles for his landscape paintings, showcasing his diverse range of skill.

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Gustav Klimt, The Park, 1909

The foliage in The Park 1909–10 is flattened while the trunks, diminishing in size give a feeling of depth. His earlier Country Garden with Sunflowers recalls the symbiosis of naturalism and ornament, and at first glance could be mistaken for one of his portraits of women.

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Gustav Klimt, Country Garden With Sunflowers, 1906

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Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Baroness Elisabeth Bachofen, 1889

Klimt’s landscapes are now a highly admired aspect of his oeuvre. However, he remains best known for his paintings of women, especially The Kiss and his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer.

 

 

Adam and Eve: The First Love Story

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Adam and Eve: The First Love Story

To celebrate the pre-release of my new novella THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA, I’ll be blogging about some of the gorgeous works of art I studied during the course of my research, beginning with Gustav Klimt’s beautiful but unfinished painting Adam and Eve, 1917-18. This one didn’t make it as far as the final edit I’m afraid, but it’s still one of my favourites.

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Gustav Klimt is perhaps best remembered for his portraits of women, preferring the female body in terms of anatomy, aesthetics and form. After his father and brother died, Klimt lived the rest of his life with his mother and sisters, and is known for his open relationship with Viennese fashion designer Emilie Floge and his numerous affairs with his female muses. As he had little interest in religion in general, it seems probable that the painting is a study of the female nude, more so than it is a biblical work of art. However, the relationship between the two figures is indicative of the power Eve had over Adam at the moment before The Fall.

Eve looks directly out at the viewer, full of vitality and confidence. She is painted in light colours, advancing towards the eye; the blue floral motifs are striking against her golden hair.

Adam, by contrast recedes, fading into the background. He is passive, somnolent; at first glance we hardly notice he is there at all. Traditionally in art, the moon represents femininity and the sun is more associated with the masculine. Here, Klimt turns tradition on its head; Eve dominates the whole composition.

The painting is also reminiscent of Klimt’s earlier, and most famous work, The Kiss.

In The Kiss, however, the man is dominant.

The iconic pose in here, with the head at a unnatural angle is mirrored in several of Klimt’s paintings. In the other works however, when the woman dominates, a child is often the passive figure.

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Gustav Klimt died suddenly in 1918, before Adam and Eve could be finished. It now hangs in the Belvedere in Vienna.

I’ll be blogging about more of Klimt’s beautiful works of art next week. In the mean time, my novella, THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA is now available on pre-order from Amazon

THE WOMEN FRIENDS: SELINA

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Who is the young woman with the haunting gaze in Gustav Klimt’s 1917 masterpiece, The Women Friends?

Selina Brunner is running from the demons of her past, cut off from her family in a sleepy Tyrolean village, and lost in the soulless city of Vienna, where everything – even one’s very existence – is a lie.

When, amidst growing fear of sinister developments in Vienna, an exotic stranger comes to town, Selina finds old passions reignited and her whole world turned upside down.

The Women Friends: Selina is the first in a series of fictional tales about the women who inspired this great artist.