Monthly Archives: November 2016

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.

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer

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.