Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gustav Klimt at 150

 Poetry from the Beethoven Frieze, 1902

Yesterday was quite a day for birthdays and anniversaries.  Among them was the 150th birthday of the popular Viennese painter Gustav Klimt.

Klimt worked at the same time that Freud was busy with his pioneering work showing that we are not the rational creatures that we think we are, that we share much more with our fellow animals than we assume, not only in out bodies, but in our minds and souls.  At the same time, writers and playwrights like Arthur Schnitzler and Hugo Von Hoffmannstahl punched holes through the optimism of the late 19th century, and cast doubt on its positivist faith in rationalist materialism and a technological future.  Vienna's populist antisemitic mayor Karl Lüger gave the world a foretaste of the dark irrational politics of tribal passion to come.

Gustav Klimt himself challenged the liberal optimism of Vienna's insecure bourgeoisie, and retreated in the face of the intense reaction his work provoked.

Here is a portfolio of Klimt's work.

Klimt began as a very successful society painter and mural painter.  Above are some of his public murals for Vienna's Burgtheater, 1886 - 1888.

A detail from one of Klimt's murals for the Burgtheather

Music, 1895

Salome (Judith II), 1909

Water Snakes II, 1904 - 1907

erotic drawing

Danae, 1907 - 1908

Medicine, from the University Murals (destroyed in World War II), 1901

Justice, from the University Murals (destroyed in World War II), 
1903 - 1907

These were Klimt's most controversial works.  Many faculty members at Vienna's University resigned over the decision to accept these paintings as part of a mural cycle for the ceiling of the University's grand staircase.  Vienna's populist right wing press hammered the University over these paintings, and vilified Klimt as an elitist and called him a Jewish sympathizer, or a Jew (he was not).  Frightened by the ferocious backlash over these paintings, Klimt never again painted anything quite so provocative.

Adele Bloch-Bauer, 1907

Marie Henneberg, 1901 - 1902

Beech Forest I, 1902

The Kiss, 1907 - 1908

Gustav Klimt


Gainor said...

You have really outdone yourself with the past few blog posts, Doug! What a feast of gorgeous stuff. I can't thank you enough for your wonderful array of insightful and enlightening information. After the Widor organ video I thought I couldn't take any more but, no, the Ohio marching band nearly did me in! Wonderful. I also want you to know that I actually consult your blog for your opinion on important things. After the Supreme Court surprised us all, I couldn't wait to get home to the computer to consult your opinion on the outcome. You have a BIG fan in Florida.

Counterlight said...

Thanks Gainor. I'll try not to disappoint.

JCF said...

Klimt often seem to be painting in two different (even contradictory) styles in the same painting---but he makes it work.

Kinda would love to see those destroyed works re-created (or is it just me?).