RA Magazine Summer 2012
Issue Number: 115
Crazy for Klimt
Vienna pays tribute to the greatest star of the Secession with no less than ten exhibitions marking the artist’s 15oth anniversary, writes Anthea Gerrie
Gustav Klimt, 'Portrait of Emilie Flöge', 1902. © Wien Museum. Vienna is celebrating Klimt this year, with ten museums capitalising on the 150th anniversary of Austria’s most famous artist. Yet in his heyday the painter was derided as decadent by the establishment and kept afloat only by wealthy private patrons. Even six years ago the Belvedere Museum failed to bid for the record-smashing portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer – dubbed ‘Austria’s Mona Lisa’ – they lost in a restitution case. ‘We didn’t ask for it, because we know it will never leave New York now,’ says the museum’s vice-director Dr. Alfred Weidinger of the painting sold to the Neue Galerie for $135m. ‘But we still have The Kiss (1908) and there will be surprises to join the 20 or so Klimts going on show together in July.’
They include a rare portrait of a bearded man (from an English private collection and never previously exhibited) and two recent bequests, Sunflower (1907) and Family (1909-10). And Klimt’s Judith II (1909), also known as ‘Salome’, is coming from Venice to join its counterpart, Judith I (1901) in Vienna.
The Leopold Museum aims to shed light on Klimt’s psyche, as well as his lesser-known works. ‘For the first time, he can be seen making his own commentary on his work and life,’ says Director Dr. Tobias Natter of ‘Klimt: Up Close and Personal’. Letters from Klimt to his lovers, including his lifelong muse Emilie Flöge, with whom his relationship was intensely close but never proven to have been consummated, reveal a nervy man who hated to travel to hang shows abroad, or even cross Vienna for social evenings, but who found great peace in summers by Lake Attersee with Flöge and her sisters. Atmospheric landscapes in the show reveal the influence of Monet and Van Gogh on an artist known principally for his portraits. Their work was embraced by Klimt and other members of the Vienna Secession and exhibited at the 1903 Secession exhibition.
‘We also show how Klimt turned his back on public commissions when his Faculty paintings proved controversial,’ says Natter, referring to the works Philosophy (1900), Medicine (1901) and Jurisprudence (1903), depicting the eponymous faculties in paintings ordered for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. They were subsequently rejected for their radical themes and overtly sexual content and never displayed. ‘He felt he had to turn to private patrons to stay true to his art.’
Klimt had changed his style dramatically from his early murals for the ceiling of the Burgtheater (1886-88) and decorative panels for the stairwell of the Kunsthistorisches Museum (1890). The first of these schemes was strongly neoclassical, while the second shows Klimt exploring a range of sources, from ancient Egypt to the Italian Renaissance.
From May until September a trio of iconic paintings, including Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902, left), can be seen at the Wien Museum, which will also show its complete collection of 400 Klimt drawings for the first time. Yet this year’s city-wide celebration of works that were often reviled in their time would be scant consolation to an artist revealed as a hypochondriac and manic-depressive, who confessed in his letters that he could not remember a day when he had not been unhappy.
- 'Masterpieces in Focus: 150 Years of Gustav Klimt', The Belvedere, Vienna, www.belvedere.at, 12 July– 6 Jan, 2013
- 'Klimt: Up Close and Personal', Leopold Museum, Vienna, www.leopoldmuseum.org, until 27 Aug
- 'Klimt: The Wien Museum Collection', Wien Museum, Vienna, www.wienmuseum.at, until 16 Sep
- Klimt 150 www.wien.info, for more details
Ancient and modern
Hans Josephsohn (b.1920) is one of the outstanding and perhaps unsung figurative sculptors of our time. His work refers to ancient and classical art but with a modern sense of angst, as in Untitled (1999-2001), a mother and child image that, while echoing Etruscan tomb figures, also suggests incineration. A major show of his work at Lismore Castle Arts, Ireland (until 30 Sep; www.lismorecastlearts.ie)
offers a chance to discover this compelling artist. SW
© Josephsohn/Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Kesselhaus Josephsohn.
New York’s Metropolitan Museum is housing a small but striking exhibition of three of the greatest Venetian Renaissance painters, Titian, Bellini and Lotto (until 3 Sep; www.metmuseum.org).
The works are lent from the superb collection of the Accademia Carrara at Bergamo while it is closed for refurbishment. A highlight is Lotto’s Entombment (1516), notable for its sumptuous colours and intriguing weirdness of conception. SW
Lotto, 'Entombment', 1516. Accademia Carrara, Comune di Bergamo AC5.
Giuseppe Penone, 'Ideas of Stone', 2004-10. Photo Roman Mensing.
Located in the German town of Kassel, the 13th edition of the eagerly awaited quinquennial exhibition of international contemporary art, Documenta (9 June–16 Sep; www.d13.documenta.de)
will fill the city. Art is liable to crop up anywhere there, even up a tree, as in Arte Povera artist Giuseppe Penone’s Ideas of Stone (2004-10). SW
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