Klimt Every Mountain!
Yes, I know, that’s a truly awful pun! All I can say is it fits with the Rodgers and Hammerstein theme of My Favorite Things.
2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the brilliant Viennese artist Gustav Klimt. He’s the guy who launched the posters for a thousand university rooms with The Kiss. It’s stunningly romantic, isn’t it? Klimt lived between 1862 and 1918 and The Kiss is one his later works, painted in 1907.
Klimt was part of the Secessionist Movement in Vienna before World War I. You can see Art Nouveau influences in the intricacy of design and the almost Celtic use of spirals and curves. In his day, his work was often considered too scandalous for words, and I think even now, we respond to the deeply sensual eroticism of his images.
I must have been in my early teens, the first time I saw prints of Klimt’s work. And yes, I’m pretty sure the first one I saw was The Kiss. Immediately I was drawn to the extreme structural formality of his canvases mixed with the strong sensuality, particularly in relation to the depiction of women. I was a girl who’d grown up reading romance novels; these Klimt paintings were like psychedelic takes on the clinch covers so dear to my adolescent heart.
In my twenties, I was lucky enough to visit Vienna and even luckier to see many of Klimt’s works on display. The Belvedere has a wonderful collection which gives you an idea of the range of his work outside those few iconic images. I also attended an amazing exhibition of Vienna in the first 20 years of the 20th century (this had EVERYTHING, including Franz Ferdinand’s bloodstained jacket) where they’d sourced a lot of Klimt’s work from private collections.
I think Klimt is an artist who doesn’t display to full effectiveness in reproduction, especially for those sumptuous paintings of his gold period (including The Kiss). I’ve included another example, the famous (and at one time most expensive painting ever sold) Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, now in New York. The gold he uses so prolifically is REAL gold so when you see the actual paintings, the rich effect is impossible to describe. Apparently he was influenced by the mosaics in Ravenna and Venice; if you click on this link to the mosaics at San Vitale in Ravenna, you’ll see the similarity in composition.
He also painted some beautiful landscapes, using that same geometrical detail that still conveys the organic nature of the burgeoning growth. Isn’t that painting of a birch forest gorgeous? So deep and mysterious, it draws you in like a traveler down a shadowy path.
For all its beauty, there’s something deeply unsettling in a lot of Klimt’s work. You’ll see what I mean when you look at his depiction of the Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War, Pallas Athene. This is not a lady you’d like to meet down a dark alley!
I also love the picture of The Golden Knight. I haven’t seen the original of this one, it’s in a museum in Nagoya in Japan. Maybe one day. Isn’t the horse magnificent? I also love the way he’s painted the background, like the floral decoration on a renaissance tapestry. For me, it’s that mixture of the fantasy and the real, as well as the sheer beauty of his images, that makes Klimt one of my favorite artists.