Wednesday, June 22, 2016

06 Classic Works of Art, Gustav Klimt's Marine Paintings of Mermaids - 2

Gustav Klimt (July 14, 1862 – February 6, 1918) was an Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Vienna Secession movement. Klimt is noted for his paintings, murals, sketches, and other objets d'art. Klimt's primary subject was the female body, and his works are marked by a frank eroticism. In addition to his figurative works, which include allegories and portraits, he painted landscapes. Among the artists of the Vienna Secession, Klimt was the most influenced by Japanese art and its methods.

Early in his artistic career, he was a successful painter of architectural decorations in a conventional manner. As he developed a more personal style, his work was the subject of controversy that culminated when the paintings he completed around 1900 for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were criticized as pornographic. He subsequently accepted no more public commissions, but achieved a new success with the paintings of his "golden phase," many of which include gold leaf. More

Gustav Klimt
Fischblut, c. 1898
Fish blood

Gustav Klimt may never have set foot in Japan, but his drawing “Fishblood” shows just how deeply he was influenced by Japanese art.

Asian art, in particular Japanese prints and pattern books, “had an enormous influence on Klimt during the years in which he turned to Symbolism and ultimately to the Secession,” an Austrian art movement spearheaded by Klimt that rejected the academic establishment and brought avant-garde art to Vienna. More

Gustav Klimt
Mermaids, c. 1899
Oil on canvas
52 × 65 cm

The painting clearly derives from Klimt's pen and ink drawing Fish Blood (above), which was reproduced in the third issue of Ver Sacrum. Klimt seems to have enjoyed working in pen and ink; quite possibly the absence of colour allowed him to concentrate on the composition. 

Gustav Klimt
Mermaids, c. 1899
Detail

In Flowing Water, Klimt has been able to leave the bottom right-hand corner completely empty, bar his signature, without upsetting the balance. The fish on the bottom left-hand side reappears in Goldfish. Two later paintings by Klimt, Water Snakes I, and Water Snakes II also explore the sensual theme of women in water. More

Gustav Klimt
Mermaids, c. 1899
Detail

Gustav Klimt
Water Serpents I, c. 1904
Tempera / Watercolor on parchment
50 × 20 cm
Austrian Gallery, Vienna

Klimt returned to the theme of 'sensual women in water' in two works know as Water Serpents I and Water Serpents II. Water Serpents I is not an oil painting, and its pale, unusual colouring is in part dictated by the medium used. It does not differ much from the preliminary drawings that Klimt used for reference, apart from the addition of the gold paint, and the green and gold-leaf thread entangled around the women's bodies. 

Gustav Klimt
Water Serpents I, c. 1904
Detail

The unambiguously lesbian embrace of his models would perhaps have been unacceptable had it been presented as a straight portrait. However, by renaming the work and giving it an allegorical theme and by adding the fish-like serpent behind the bodies and adorning every surface with gold and pattern, Klimt was able to show the painting to Vienna without fear of censorship. 

Gustav Klimt
Water Serpents II, c. 1904
Oil on canvas
80 × 145 cm

Gustav Klimt
Water Serpents II, c. 1904
Detail

Gustav Klimt
Water Serpents II, c. 1904
Detail

The basic genres of Klimt's art remained unchanged up to the time of his death - portraits, landscapes, and allegories. In his last period, however, these familiar genres were treated with greater expression of feelings and the pictures became less abstract. Human types were no longer disguised in the context of myth or fairy tale. They appeared before the viewer in unvarnished reality. In a later painting, Women Friends, Klimt portrayed lesbianism much more openly. A naked young girl with parted lips rests her head against her lover, who holds a wrap, partly covering their nudity. More

Gustav Klimt 
Goldfish, c. 1901
Oil on Canvas
181 × 66.5 cm

Klimt was so infuriated and exasperated by the hostile reaction to his Faculty Paintings (Philosophy, Medicine,and Jurisprudence) that he painted this mocking riposte. Although he originally called it 'To my Detractors', on the advice of his friends Klimt changed the title to Goldfish when he exhibited the work in the 1903 Secession exhibition. Despite the change of title, the Press were up in arms, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the smiling woman is undeniably and provocatively turning her bottom towards the viewer. More

Gustav Klimt 
Goldfish, c. 1901
Detail

Gustav Klimt 
Goldfish, c. 1901
Detail


Gustav Klimt
Mermaids, c. 1899
Oil on Canvas
82 × 52 cm
Central Savings Bank of the City of Vienna

Like Flowing Water, Mermaids is another work dwelling on the sensuality of water and the female body. Mermaids looks forward to one of the Faculty Paintings, Jurisprudence, on which he began work the following year. The sheath-like nature of the female figures' hair and the surprisingly phallic outline of their bodies are strikingly similar. 

Gustav Klimt
Mermaids, c. 1899
Detail

Furthermore, even the colouring must have been broadly comparable. Since the Faculty Paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1945, we have only the notes of the contemporary art critic Ludwig Hevesi to tell us that 'black and gold predominate in Jurisprudence'. The rather menacing, predatory nature of these mermaids, with their strongly emphasized eyes, brows and mouths, suggests that they are to be viewed as sirens or femmes fatales. The male voyeur present in Flowing Water has - perhaps wisely - gone away."More"

Gustav Klimt
Mermaids, c. 1899
Detail



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Acknowledgement: Zeno