“Drawn In Colour: Degas From the Burrell” recat London's National Gallery brought together 20 works by Edgar Degas from Glasgow's Burrell Collection Gallery along with a number of works from the National Gallery's own collection.
Hilaire-Germain-Edgar De Gas was born in Paris in 1834. His father was a French banker and his mother was from a New Orleans Creole family. His father was interested in the arts and encouraged Edgar's interest, often accompanying him to museums in Paris. Indeed, after Edgar made an unsuccessful attempt to fulfill his father's desire that he pursue a career in law, his father provided him with an art studio.
Edgar's training in art was quite conventional. He studied at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts including drawing with Louis Lamothe, a disciple of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who Edgar greatly admired. He also traveled to Italy to study the works of the Italian Renaissance masters. In both France and Italy, much of his time was spent copying masterpiece paintings and drawings.
With this background, it is not surprising that Edgar's early work was influenced by conventional thinking about art. In those days, history painting was considered the highest form of fine art and so Edgar did history paintings. He also submitted and had works accepted by the Salon, the apex of the art establishment.
Soon, however, Edgar's work became quite unconventional. Several factors contributed to this change. In 1864, he met Edouard Manet while he was copying a painting at the Louvre. They became good friends and Edgar came to share Manet's interest in depicting modern life. Following, the death of his father in 1873, Edgar sold off most of his assets in order to pay debts that had been amassed by his brother. As a result, Edgar, who was now spelling his last name “Degas”, had to rely on the sale of his art work to make his living.
The primary factor in the evolution of Degas' work, however, was his quick mind. While he always retained his admiration for the great painters of the past, Degas was continually innovating. Diverse inspirations such as Japanese art and the new technology of photography influenced his compositions. He was interested in experimenting with different mediums, branching into photography, sculpture and, most particularly, pastels, which he applied in complex layers and textures. Although often conservative in his thinking on other matters, his thinking on art became quite radical.
In 1874, he joined together with several other artists who were taking unconventional approaches to art for an exhibition. The group came to be known as the “Impressionists,” a label Degas hated. Degas helped organize the Impressionist exhibitions and exhibited in all but one of the Impressionist exhibitions.
Degas added another dimension to Impressionism. Whereas his colleagues Claude Monet and Camille Pissaro mostly painted landscapes, Degas was interested primarily in the human figure. Whereas the other Impressionists preferred to work outdoors capturing what they were observing at the moment, Degas preferred to work in his studio, sometimes working from photographs or from memory. What connects Degas to the others, however, is an interest in depicting modern life, an interest in light and an interest in using color in unconventional ways.
Because there were profound differences in the individual Impressionist's artistic philosophies and because the group included some difficult personalities (including Degas) the group eventually separated. There were only eight Impressionist exhibitions and after 1886, the artists went their separate ways.
Degas, who was having problems with his eye-sight, became particularly solitary. Increasingly, he turned to pastels and sculpture. Again and again, he returned to certain subjects such as dancers, horse racing and women bathing. He died in 1917.
Sir William Burrell (1861 - 1958) amassed 20 major works by Degas including works from every period of the artist's life. He donated these along with some 9,000 other works of art to the City of Glasgow in 1944. The closing of the Burrell Collection Gallery in Glasgow for renovation provided an opportunity for the Degas to be exhibited in London.
The exhibition was presented in three sections: Modern Life; Dancers and Private Worlds - - in short three of Degas' signature subject matters.
Although there were a few oil paintings and drawings, most of the works in the exhibition were pastels, Degas' favorite medium The presentation of these works together served to underscore how much of an innovator Degas was. His use of this medium was much different than conventional pastels. The strokes are vigorous conveying energy. The shapes verge on the abstract at times. The colors are often strong and bold.
“Charles II: Art & Power” at the Queen's Gallery (London) looks at the role of art in the reign of King Charles II (1660 to 1685).
Charles II's reign was shaped by the English Civil War. Charles's father, King Charles I, sought to be an absolute monarch. However, he came to the throne as the power of Parliament and democracy was growing in England. Eventually, this led to civil war. Charles I lost and was beheaded in London in 1649.
Parliament declared the monarchy abolished and established England as a Commonwealth with Oliver Cromwell, the leader of the parliamentary army, as Lord Protector. Both to raise money and to do away with the trappings of monarchy, the royal regalia, furnishings and art collection were sold or melted down.
The Commonwealth quickly fell apart following Cromwell's death. Unable to find a leader to replace Cromwell, Parliament reinstated the monarchy and invited Charles II to return from exile.
Although he was welcomed back to England with great fanfare and popular sentiment, Charles realized that his position was precarious. He had seen the consequences of his father's absolutist attitude. In addition, while he was in exile, he had had to journey from country to country as various rulers' attitudes shifted from being Charles' allies to wanting to curry favor with Cromwell. As a result, Charles realized that he needed to create a public image that would help secure his position as king.
One of the tools that Charles used to build this public image was art. Upon his return, Charles had an elaborate coronation. Since the royal regalia had been destroyed by the Commonwealth, he commissioned new regalia. The sumptuous pageantry connected him to the monarchs of the past and helped legitimize his reign. In addition, the Commonwealth had been heavily influenced by Puritan thinking and the people appreciated the colorful and lively ceremony.
Charles and his court also commissioned works of art. Portraits showing the king, his family and his various mistresses in silks and elaborate finery hung in the various royal palaces. These were not done just for vanity but also to show that Charles and his court belonged in these palaces.
At this time, collecting prints was becoming popular in England. It was the social media of the day. People purchased prints of Charles and displayed them in their homes. They were also entertained by tales of the various intrigues that were going on at court and enjoyed seeing prints of the portraits of the participants.
Charles was also eager to re-build the royal art collection. His father had been a renowned collector. But beyond family sentiment, Charles wanted a first rate collection because such a collection would place him along side the established monarchs of the day. Therefore, a law was enacted calling for the return of works that had been sold by the Commonwealth. In addition, Charles purchased old master paintings and drawings. His collection grew further as a result of gifts from from other nations and courtiers seeking to ingratiate themselves with the king.
Using works from the Royal Collection, this exhibition does not merely display works from the time of Charles II but presents them so that their use as a tool of the king is clear. The signage and the audio guide (included in the price of admission) also help to support the presentation of the thesis of the exhibition.
Unlike his father who had had the services of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Charles did not have an artist of genius to do his portraits. Sir Peter Lely and his contemporaries were good draftsmen but their portraits are chiefly of interest because of the people depicted rather than as independent works of art.
The difference between the work of good artists and artists of genius is brought home by the examples of old master paintings and drawings collected by Charles II. These works, including works by Titian and Holbein, have an indefinable quality that the Restoration works do not.
“Birds of a Feather: Joseph Cornell's Homage to Juan Gris” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a small exhibition that brings together a dozen of Cornell's shadow boxes along with the painting by Juan Gris that inspired Cornell.
Joseph Cornell was born in 1903 outside of New York City. He was the eldest of four children. When his father died in 1916, the family was left in bad financial circumstances and had to move into the city. Joseph dedicated most of his life to supporting the family including a younger brother who had cerebal palsy. Painfully shy, Cornell never married and had few relationships and friendships.
Cornell had little formal education. However, he was well-read and interested in cultural activities. Accordingly, he spent much of his free time exploring museums and art galleries. As a result, he began to develop his own art.
The primary medium used by Cornell was the shadow box. He would take various objects that he discovered on his trips around New York and assemble them together. These juxtapositions of found objects had a surrealistic flavor and he was embraced by the Surrealists and New York's artistic community.
On one of his visits to an art gallery, he saw a painting by Juan Gris that he found striking. Gris was born in Spain in 1887 but moved to Paris in 1906 where he became part of the avant garde scene. Although not the inventor of Cubism, he brought that style forward and developed it.
The work that inspired Cornell was “The Man at the Cafe.” In it, Gris depicted the criminal mastermind in a popular series of novels. This shady character is almost entirely obscured by the newspaper he is reading. The shadow from his fedora blocks out his face. Wood grained paneling mixes the background and the figure. Done in the Cubist style, it is divided into geometric planes.
Cornell made 18 shadowboxes, two collages and a sand tray in the series inspired by Gris' painting. Like Gris' painting, he incorporated printed pages and trompe l'oeil wood grain in these works. There is also a central figure but instead of a criminal mastermind, the figure is a cockatoo.
The shadow boxes are much smaller than Gris' painting. Consequently, they are much more intimate visually. Thus, while they may be rooted in the painting, they are a much different visual experience.
“Leon Golub Raw Nerve” at the Met Breuer in New York City is a selective survey of the work of the 20th century American artist Leon Golub.
Born in Chicago in 1922, Golub studied art history at the University of Chicago, graduating in 1942. After the Second World War, he studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. There he met his wife, the artist Nancy Spero, to whom he was married for nearly 50 years.
The two arists lived in Europe for periods during the 1950s and 1960s. While there, Golub developed his interest in 19th century historical painting and artists such as Jacques Louis David and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. He was also interested in ancient Greek and Roman art. As a result, at a time when the art establishment was only interested in abstraction, Golub was creating art in which recognizable human figures were central.
Golub, however, was not a conventional artist. While the influences of ancient and traditional art can be seen in his works, he also incorporated much of the force of the abstract expressionist painters. His images were often done with free broad strokes. He added layers of paint and then scraped them away. He left sections of the canvas in its raw state. This technique did not make for pretty pictures but it did make them emotionally powerful.
When Golub and Spero returned to the United States in the 1960s, opposition to the Vietnam War was growing as that conflict escalated. Golub became involved in the anti-war movement and violence and cruelty became themes in his art. Other social and political issues such as racial inequality, torture, oppression and political corruption would also draw Golub's attention throughout the rest of his career.
An artist seeking to convey a political or social message with a work of art has to be careful to avoid making the work dependent upon the viewer's knowledge of the underlying political or social issue. A scene or a symbol that everyone today would recognize as having a certain meaning may not mean anything to a viewer 20 years from now. Thus, a work that is too heavily dependent upon today's headlines may have no meaning in the future.
Golub's works transcend the headlines. For example, “Gigantomachy II' is a monumental painting of a group of muscular male figures fighting, which was done during the Vietnam War. The title refers to a battle between the Olympian gods and a race of giants and the painting recalls an ancient Greek frieze. However, it is not a glorious depiction of battle but rather conveys a sense of cruelty and pain. Thus, it is not just about ending the Vietnam War but is a condemnation of war that continues to have meaning.
Along the same lines, in “Two Black Women and a White Man,” Golub presents two black women sitting on a bench with a white man leaning against a wall behind them. Perhaps, it is a group waiting for a bus. However, the positioning of the figures and the way they are avoiding any interaction, underscores the separation and isolation of the races. The scene could be in the United States during the Civil Rights Movement or in South Africa during Apartheid, it could be now. The message of the picture still comes through.
“Provocations: Anslem Kiefer at the Met Breuer” is a large exhibition drawn from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of works by the contemporary German artist.
Anslem Kiefer was born in Germany two months before the end of the Second World War in Europe. Kiefer planned from childhood to be an artist. However, when he entered the University of Freiberg, he began as a pre-law and language student. However, he soon switched to the study of art and went on to studying art at academies in Karlsruhe and Dusseldorf. He studied informally with the artist Joseph Beuys. Now a well-established artist, he lives in the South of France.
Keifer's work has been primarily concerned with relating German history and culture to the present day. In particular, he has sought to confront the Nazi era.
Following the end of the Second World War, the symbols of the Nazi era were outlawed in Germany. The victorious Allies were concerned that the Nazi movement could be revived if these symbols were allowed to be displayed. For many of the vanquished German people the ban made it easier to forget the horrors that had been committed in their name. However, by the 1960s, German intellectuals were arguing that the Germany had to come to terms with its past.
In 1969, Kiefer came to public attention with a series of photographs that he had taken of himself in his father's Wermacht uniform giving the Nazi salute. The photos were taken with a background of historic monuments around Europe and by the seaside. Audiences wondered whether the photos were meant to be ironic or as praise for the Nazis. Kiefer's objective was to cause people to confront rather than bury the past.
Kiefer has over the years expanded the scope of his work to include a broad range of German history and culture. However, since the Nazi propaganda machine conscripted much of German music, myth, legend and history, the specter of the Nazi era is never far away.
Described as a Neo-expressionist, Kiefer has used a variety of mediums in his work. In addition to traditional painting and photography, his works have incorporated such things as earth, lead, straw and broken glass. He is also known for works on a monumental scale.
One such monumental work displayed in the exhibition is “Bohemia Lies by the Sea” (1996). The painting has some of the force of an abstract expressionist work. However, it is actually a scene of a rutted country road extending through a field of poppies. The title is taken from an Austrian poem in which the poet longs for utopia but recognizes that it is unreachable just as landlocked Bohemia can never be by the sea. The connection to the Nazi era is that Bohemia is in the Sudetenland annexed by the Nazis just before the war. Furthermore, poppies are a symbol for lives lost in war.
While Kiefer is known for his large works, I found myself drawn more to some of the smaller works in the exhibition. For example, in “Herzeleide” (Suffering heart), Keifer based his watercolor on the image in a Nazi era book of a mother looking at a document informing her that her son has been killed. Nazi propaganda exalted such sacrifices. In his painting, Kiefer has replaced the document with an artist's palette.
“My Father Pledged Me A Sword” is based upon Wagner's Ring Cycle operas. In the operas, Woton, king of the gods, thrust a sword into in an ash tree. Later, his son Sigmund is in need of the sword and cries out for it. However, Kiefer has painted the sword not in a tree but in a rock atop a high cliff overlooking a fjord - - much more difficult to retrieve.
Even assuming aguendo that the viewer knew nothing about German history or culture, Kiefer's art still works. The works are well composed. Sometimes bleak and sometimes harsh, they are always emotionally powerful and thought-provoking.
"Unknown Tibet: The Tucci Expeditions and Buddist Painting” at the Asia Society Museum in New York City presents a selection of Tibetan paintings collected during the expeditions of Giuseppe Tucci during his expeditions to Tibet along with some of the photographs that were taken during the expedition. The paintings in the exhibit are from the Museum of Civilisation-Museum of Oriental Art "Giuseppe Tucci," in Rome and are being shown for the first time in the United States.
Giuseppe Tucci was a writer, scholar and explorer who made eight expeditions to Tibet during the period 1926 to 1948. Up to that time, Tibet was a remote mystery and Tibetan culture largely unknown outside of Tibet. Tucci traveled some 5,000 miles on foot and on horseback across the Tibetan plateau, In addition to meeting people and seeing places, he obtained permission to collect examples of Tibetan culture for study outside the country.
In addition, Tucci brought along photographers to document the expeditions. Their mission included photographing monuments, cultural artifacts, people and their occupations. In other words, they made a systematic effort to document this ancient culture before it vanished.
The exhibition presents copies of some of the 14,000 photographs that were taken. Done in black and white, with strong contrast, the images are artistic in themselves. They reveal a treeless, stark world populated by people who are both rugged and spiritual.
The core of the exhibition, however, is the paintings. Done on fabric, the majority of these paintings are religious paintings designed to be an aid in meditation and ritual. Most relate to Buddhism but some relate to earlier religions.
Deemed to be in too poor condition to be used in religious practice, Tucci acquired paintings by purchase and by gift. A number of the paintings were discovered in a cave by one of his photographers. The ones on exhibit have now been restored.
The paintings are full of religious symbols and meaning. Indeed, even the 17th century Arhat paintings, which look at first glance like a series of portraits, have symbolic meaning. The Arhats were disciples of the Shakyamuni Buddha. In each of the paintings, there is a dominant central figure. Around him are various figures and animals, each of which relates to some aspect of the central figure's life. Furthermore, the paintings relate to each other as they were to be hung in a certain order in the temple.
Leaving aside their religious meaning, the paintings work as art. The figures are done delicately with relatively few lines, avoiding unnecesary detail. Beyond the figures are serene landscapes Flat and two dimensional, the images also have an abstract appeal. The restored colors are bright and appealing.
“American Painters in Italy: From Copley to Sargent” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is an intimate exhibition of works from 18 American artists illustrating the influence of Italy on their art. Drawn from the museum's collection, it includes drawings and sketches as well as a number of watercolor paintings.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, people interested in pursuing a career in art were encouraged to travel to Italy to study that country's long artistic history and culture. Of course, only a few had the means to make the arduous trip across the Atlantic from America. Still, beginning with Benjamin West in 1760, a number of American artists who would later achieve lasting fame made the journey.
For example, Thomas Cole traveled to Italy in 1825 during a sojourn that took him to England and several European capitals. In Italy, he enrolled in art classes in Florence and made copies of works by Italian Renaissance masters. He also ventured out and made sketches of the Italian landscape. When he returned to the United States, he incorporated what he had learned in his landscapes. Thus, Cole's time in Italy can be said to have influenced the Hudson River School and American landscape painting.
The exhibition contains a number of works done as part of such educational journeys. For example, there is a page of drawings by Thomas Sully of works by Michelangelo. There is also a watercolor copy by Julian Alden Weir of a painting by Botticelli.
Italy's influence on American artists is shown in other ways. For example, J. Carroll Beckwith's chalk drawing called “The Veronese Print.” is a portrait of a Victorian era woman.. The reference to the Italian Renaissance master Paolo Veronese in the picture's title is to a print on the wall behind the sitter.
Of course, American artists traveled to Italy for purposes other than studying. In 1879, James McNeil Whistler traveled to Venice to do a series of etchings for the Fine Art Society in London. While he was there, he did nearly 100 pastel drawings of the city. His “Note in Pink and Brown” is an intriguing drawing of a scene from one of Venice's canals. Whistler omits unnecessary detail to produce a vague, dream-like atmosphere.
The highlight of the exhibition is a series of watercolors by John Singer Sargent. Born in Florence, Italy to expatriate American parents, Sargent traveled often to Italy. Most of these watercolors are landscapes of Venice or studies of architectural features. His watercolors are freer than the commissioned portraits for which he is best known. Furthermore, the colors are more vivid in the watercolors, more like those of his friend Claude Monet.
“Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a large exhibition that places in context much of the art created in France from the French Revolution to World War I. It explains why so much attention was paid by artists such as the Impressionists to the out doors as a subject.
Extending from the late 18th century through the 19th century a passion developed in France for parks and gardens. Several factors came together to fuel this passion.
First, as a result of the French Revolution, the parks and hunting reserves that had heretofore been open only to royalty and the aristocracy, became open to everyone. This access helped to open the eyes of the public to the beauties of nature.
Second, the Industrial Revolution also changed the character of society. The middle class grew and people had more leisure time. They wanted green spaces, both public parks and private gardens, where they could escape from the stresses and pollution that were the less attractive side effects of industrialization. Accordingly, in the grand re-design of Paris that took place in the mid-19th century, Baron Haussmann included tree-lined boulevards and some 30 parks and squares. Other cities and towns throughout France followed suit.
Third, it was also a period of exploration and travel. Exotic plants were being brought back to France, stirring the public imagination. The Empress Josephine, first wife of Napoleon, and a celebrity in her day, spurred public interest in such plants by making her greenhouse at Malmaison a horticulture hub for exotic species.
Artists were not immune from these forces. The natural world, depicted in landscapes and in still lifes, had long been a subject for art. However, a new enthusiaum developed. The painters of the Barbizon School took inspiration from the former royal hunting grounds at Fontainebleau. Later, the Impressionists, whose aims included depicting scenes of modern life, reflected public's passion for parks, gardens and the natural world in their works.
While this exhibition includes earlier works, the Impressionists and the artists that they influenced dominate the exhibition. For example, in the gallery “Parks for the Public,” we see works by Camille Corot, Théodore Rousseau and others of former royal hunting reserves. However, you also have masterpieces by Calude Monet and Camille Pissaro of city parks in Paris. There is also a wonderful watercolor by Berthe Morrisot “A Woman Seated at a Bench on the Avenue du Bois” as well as a study by Pointillist George Seurat for “"A Sunday on La Grande Jatte."
In the gallery “Private Gardens,” the works reflect the fact that people wanted to have their own green spaces where they could cultivate plants and escape from the outside world. Many artists were also amateur gardeners during this period. Of course, the dominant figure here is Claude Monet who was painting garden scenes long before he created his famous garden at Giverney. However, lesser known watercolors of garden scenes by Renoir and by Cezanne should not be overlooked.
With regard to portraiture, we see that the artists blurred the distinction between portraits and genre painting. They are both depictions of individuals and scenes of everyday life. As a result, the identity of the sitter is no longer paramount if important at all to the success of the work. Furthermore, nature is an equal partner in these scenes, not just a background.
To illustrate, Edouard Manet's “The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil” is a portrait of Monet and his family. The figures are arranged in a relaxed manner rather than in traditional portrait poses. Thus, it is also a scene of everyday life. Moreover, it would be just as successful if the figures were an unidentified family because it is a captivating garden scene.
The passion for nature also brought about a revival of interest in floral still life painting. The exhibition presents examples by Manet, Monet, Cassat, Degas, and Matisse to name a few. But Vincent Van Goghs paintings of sunflowers and irises attract the most viewers.
Given the popularity of the Impressionists and their broader circle, one would expect any exhibit in which they are prominent to be successful. However, the Met has done a good job here of supporting the theme of the exhibition. In addition to the paintings, there are drawings, prints contemporary photographs and objects relating to this theme. The signage is also good.
“Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art presents some 200 works by Michelangelo and his contemporaries. It includes 133 of Michelangelo's drawing as well as three of his marble sculptures gathered from 48 museums and private collections. It is a monumental exhibit.
Although Michelangelo considered himself to be primarily a sculptor in marble, he was also a painter and an architect. In this exhibition, we see that the foundation of his art in all of these disciplines was drawing. But more than mere draftsmanship, his drawing reflected a quality of design. The exhibition uses the Italian word disego to capture this concept.
Very few of the works in this exhibition were meant for public display. Rather, they were preparatory drawings made in order to work out ideas that would be used in paintings or sculptures. Others served to illustrate ideas for buildings. Because they were made further back in the creative process, they reveal something of how Michelangelo developed his ideas.
To illustrate how some of the drawings led to finished works, the exhibit has a one quarter size reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel displayed ion the ceiling of one of the galleries. Visitors can look up from Michelangelo's drawing and see how that idea was used in the final masterpiece.
The exhibit also places the drawings in context. For example, the exhibit is open about Michelangelo's love of young men and explains that his “divine heads” were drawings that he did of those men and as presents for them. It also discusses his platonic relationship with the poet Vittoria Colonna and presents the drawings that he did when he came under her influence.
It also looks at his relationship with other artists. To illustrate, Raphael began to achieve success in Rome at a time when Michelangelo was living in Florence. In order to compete with Raphael, Michelangelo fed ideas to the painter Sebastiano.
Michelngelo's powerful marble bust of Brutus is presented along with a Roman statue that inspired Michelangelo and a bust of Julius Caesar made by a contemporary of Michelangelo. This allows us to see the debt that Michelangelo owed to the ancients as well as how his work broke with what was fashionable when Michelangelo created his Brutus.
Michelangelo is one of the best known artists of all time. Yet, this exhibit sheds light on his creative process and career that may not have been generally appreciated before.
The centerpiece of the Neue Galerie is the Klimt Gallery on the second floor. This room is home to ten or so works by Gustav Klimt. While there are many interesting works in the Neue Galerie, this is where you find the most visitors.
Undoubtedly, Klimt is the best known of the Austrian and German artists featured in this museum. But what makes his art successful?
Klimt was born in 1862 outside of Vienna. His father was an engraver often working with gold but Gustav grew up in poverty.
He received his artistic training at the State School of Arts and Crafts as did his brother Ernst. The teo brothers formed a partnership with fellow artists Franz Matsch and found their first success doing conventional history paintings.
Gustav was not satisfied with conventional art. Therefore, after Ernst's death, Gustav became a founding member of the Vienna Secession, a group who sought to break away from the rules of the art establishment of the day. Nonetheless, his unconventional style was appreciated by Vienna's growing middle class who commissioned him to do portraits.
On the surface, Klimt's private life might appear to have been conventional. All his life, he lived in an apartment with his mother and two sisters. After Ernst died, he became the guardian for his niece. He never married.
But when you look a little deeper, you find that surface appearances can be deceptive. When Gustav died in 1918, the court handling his estate received 14 petitions for child support. The court concluded that three of these were proven. Such claims were consistent with the widespread rumors that Gustav had had numerous affairs with his models as well as with some of the rich ladies whose portraits he had painted. In the studio, he dressed only in a loose robe and there were tales of models cavorting between posing for erotic drawings.
Thus, Klimt was both an artistic rebel and a very sensuous individual. These are also the hallmarks of Klimt's best works.
The superstar painting of the Klimt Gallery is “Adele Bloch-Bauer I” This painting was the subject of the popular film “The Woman In Gold” but that is not the only reason people stop and linger in front of it.
It is not a conventional portrait. Indeed, only the sitter's head, shoulders and hands are easily discernible. The golden gown that covers the rest of her body blends into the background. It is a two dimensional picture full of decorative designs and geometric patterns. Yet, the various elements of the picture come together to support the face, which dominates the sea of gold.
The face is not classically beautiful but it is attractive. Her eyes are soulful and her red lips sexual. It was believed at the time that Adele was one of the women with whom Gustav had an affair. His painting “Judith,” which Adele also posed for, certainly suggests that their relationship was more than platonic. Returning to the portrait, this face surrounded by sumptuous gold leaf makes the work very sensuous.
Also in the Klimt Gallery is “Adele Bloch-Bauer II,” a slightly later portrait of the same person. It does not have the gold work of the earlier portrait and thus is not as bold. The figure is more conservatively dressed in what was probably a daytime outfit and stands out more than in the predecessor painting. Still, it is an unconventional portrait, Once again it is two dimensional. Colorful rectangles decorated with Japanese-inspired designs make up the background.
The figure is not posed provocatively but rather she is straight as a pillar. Nonetheless, her sensuality comes through in her face through Klimt's handling of the eyes and the lips.
She is portrayed intriguingly but with a touch of innocence.
On the same wall is “The Dancer,” which is similar in dimensions and in composition to “Adele Bloch-Bauer II”. It is perhaps more colorful and more flesh is more exposed but it works for generally the same reasons.
Most of the other pictures in the Gallery are landscapes. They recall works done by the Impressionists and the Post Impressionists and would have been unconventional at the time they were painted. However,without the human figure there is little sensuality and therefore less interest.
Rich Wagner is a writer, photographer and artist.