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.
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.
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.
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.
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.