Wadsworth Atheneum


At the turn of the twentieth century, Austrian society was in a state of turbulent change. The culture of the Wilhelminian era, with its mendacious veneer of prudishness and moral rectitude, was collapsing, and a new order - in social mores, in politics, and in art - was being born. The art world saw a clash between the bland, rigid establishment style and the emerging power, eroticism, and symbolism of works by the Vienna Secession - a group, cofounded by Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), that broke with the rule-bound Vienna Academy and organized its own exhibitions.

Thus in 1899 one of Klimt's paintings was called "the most beautiful picture ever painted by an Austrian," while a year later Klimt was excoriated for his new style. The paintings we now see as graceful, quietly sensual, and profoundly appreciative of their subjects were positively frightening to the Austrian sensibility in the early twentieth century.

Klimt's portraits of women still evoke mystery. His subjects seem to swim or float in the canvas, their bodies veiled in long, draped dresses, their faces drawn in sharp focus against abstract areas of color. After 1908, Klimt's portraiture came close to expressionism in its emotional subjectivity; toward the end of his life, he swung back to a more traditionally representative form. 

Gustav Klimt's death in 1918 was not widely noted; once Austria's favorite painter, he had fallen into deep obscurity. But on hearing that Klimt had died, the eminent Viennese architect Otto Wagner wrote: "If only this stupid world could realize what it has lost today!"

20 notecards, 5 each of 4 images.


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