Gustav Klimt (Austrian, Vienna 1862 - 1918 Vienna)
Portrait of a Lady, ca. 1897
Signed lower left: GUSTAV/KLIMT
Pastel on paper
20 1/8 x 10 7/8 in. (51.1 x 27.7 cm)
R. T. Miller, Jr. Fund, 1958
In Portrait of a Lady, Klimt employs black pastel with sparing red highlights to shroud the sitter in mystery. As in his later Symbolist oil portraits of the women of Viennese society, Klimt excels in suggesting the "smoldering fire" under the elegant, cool façade of a grand-bourgeoise.
Between 1896 and 1898 Klimt created numerous portrait drawings.1 Apart from a handful of three-quarter views and an even smaller number of frontal portraits, most of these drawings depict the sitter in profile, as in the Oberlin drawing. These drawings were not connected with any specific oil portraits, and Klimt clearly considered them to be independent works of art. In March of 1898 he exhibited the Oberlin drawing in the first Vienna Secession exhibition and published it in the avant-garde journal Ver Sacrum (Sacred Spring), an organ of the Art Nouveau movement.2 Klimt might have considered as models the pastel portraits of Franz von Stuck (1863-1928), which were shown at the exhibition of the Munich Secession in Vienna and published in the journals Jugend and Pan.
Oberlin's Portrait of a Lady exemplifies Klimt's finely detailed use of black pastel crayon to achieve a rich tonal range, from the lightest values for the face and hands to the soft deep blacks of the hair and dress. The background, carefully hatched in greys of different values, provides only the barest indication of the surrounding interior. The restricted, planar space and the monochromatic color scheme suggest the influence of James Abbott McNeill Whistler, whose portrait of his mother (1872; Louvre) has been claimed as a major influence on Klimt's oil portraits of the late 1890s, and certainly had an impact on his drawings as well.3
Although Strobl compares the Oberlin drawing to Klimt's drawn allegory of Tragedy of 1897,4 better comparisons can be found in his Lady at the Fireplace of 1897-98 in Vienna and the Pale Face of 1907-8 in Norman, Oklahoma.5 Both paintings show seated women and are much closer in style and mood to the Oberlin drawing.
Klimt's portraits of women were usually commissioned by the sitters' husbands or fathers. Often dressed in expensive, one-of-a-kind gowns designed by Klimt's friend, Emilie Flöge, for the Wiener Werkstatten, the sitters were depicted against intricately patterned backgrounds in a style which removed them from reality and elevated them to an aesthetic plane similar to that created in contemporary portraits by Sargent, Whistler, and Anders Zorn. These portraits do not convey psychological insight but represent well-bred, haughty, yet enchanting upper-class women who seem trapped and immobilized by layers of decoration.6
While the model in the Oberlin drawing, raven-haired and swathed in black, already conveys the "mystery" of woman--a pervasive theme in Klimt's oeuvre--the work cannot be considered an example of Klimt's mature style. In 1897 Klimt was beginning to turn towards Symbolism. He had just founded and become president of the Vienna Secession, and was receiving critical attention, mixed with protests, for his Symbolist paintings, such as Schubert am Klavier and the allegory of Philosophy(both destroyed during World War II).
The first of seven children, Gustav Klimt was born on 14 July 1862 in Vienna. In 1876 he entered the newly founded Kunstgewerbeschule (School for Applied Arts), where he studied painting with Ferdinand Laufberger and Victor Julius Berger. In 1879 Gustav Klimt, his brother Ernst Klimt (1864-1892), and Franz von Matsch (1861-1942), founded the Künstlercompagnie, an artists' co-op that produced numerous historicizing, decorative wall paintings in public buildings. When in 1894 the co-op received the commission to decorate the lobby of the University of Vienna with allegorical paintings of the different faculties, Klimt began to go his own way stylistically with innovative designs for his paintings of Philosophy(1899-1907), Medicine (1900-1901), and Law (never completed; all three destroyed during World War II).
Klimt left the artists' co-op in 1897, when he became president of the newly founded Vienna Secession. He exhibited Philosophy at the seventh Secession exhibition in 1900; Medicine at the tenth exhibition in 1901, where its depiction of a naked and pregnant woman met with much protest; and all three, along with his great Beethoven Frieze(now installed in the Vienna Secession building) in the Klimt retrospective exhibition of 1903. This same year Klimt made a trip to Ravenna, where he saw the Early Christian mosaics of San Apollinare in Classe, which inspired the highly decorated backgrounds and clothing of his "golden style."
As the Secession became increasingly fractious, Klimt and other practitioners of Art Nouveau abandoned the group to organize their own Kunstschau in 1905. Klimt exhibited less frequently and returned to the subjects of his earlier work, landscapes and portraits of upper-middle-class Viennese women, from which he earned his living. He also produced many drawings and paintings inspired by highly active erotic sensibilities. Klimt's relationships with women were unusual. Living with his mother, and after her death, with his two unmarried sisters all his life, he had so many affairs with his models that fourteen paternity suits were filed against his estate after his death. His closest friend was Emilie Flöge, whom he never married, but with whom he maintained a life long faithful platonic relationship. Klimt died on 6 February 1918, three weeks after suffering a stroke.
Nebehay, Christian M. Gustav Klimt: Eine Dokumentation. Vienna, 1969.
Comini, Alessandra. Gustav Klimt. London, 1975.
Dobai, Johannes, and Sergio Coradeschi. L'Opera completa di Klimt. Milan, 1978.
Stoss, Toni, and Christoph Oswald. Gustav Klimt. Exh. cat., Kunsthaus, Zurich, 1992.
Frodl, Gerbert. Gustav Klimt. Cologne and London, 1992.
Nebehay, Christian M. Gustav Klimt: From Drawing to Painting. London, 1994.
Partsch, Susanna. Gustav Klimt: Maler der Frauen. Munich, 1994.
Fliedel, Gottfried. Gustav Klimt (1862-1918): The World in Female Form. Cologne, 1994.
Brandstätter, Christian. Gustav Klimt und die Frauen. Vienna, 1994.
Private collection, Vienna
With Galerie St. Etienne, New York (1950), from whom purchased in July 1958
Vienna, 1898. 1. Secessions-Ausstellung. 26 March - 15 June. Cat. no. 199.
New York, Galerie St. Etienne, 1950. Austrian Art of the Nineteenth Century. Cat. no. 12.
New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1960. Art Nouveau. 6 June - 6 September (also shown at Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Baltimore Museum of Art). Cat. no. 150.
Vienna, Künstlerhaus, 1964. Wien um 1900. 5 June - 30 August. Cat. no. 148.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1966. Treasures from the Allen Memorial Art Museum. 21 July - 11 September. No cat.
"Gustav Klimt." Ver Sacrum(March 1898), ill. p. 5.
Hevesi, L. Acht Jahre Secession: März 1897 - Juni 1905. Vienna, 1906, p. 16.
The American-German Review(August-September 1959), ill. p. 5.
Selz, Peter, et al. Art Nouveau: Art and Design at the Turn of the Century. Exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1959, ill. no. 150.
Jacobus, John M. "Art Nouveau in New York." The Burlington Magazine 102, no. 690 (September 1960), p. 395.
Novotny, Fritz, and Johannes Dobai. Gustav Klimt. Salzburg, 1967, ill. no. 82.
Nebehay, Christian, ed. Gustav Klimt: Dokumentation. Vienna, 1969, p. 147, fig. 213.
Nebehay, Christian. "Gustav Klimt als Buchillustrator für die Zeitschrift Ver Sacrum." Festschrift Josef Stummvoll. Edited by Josef Mayerhöfer and Walter Ritzer. Vol. 2. Vienna, 1970, p. 723, no. 41.
Stechow, Wolfgang. Catalogue of Drawings and Watercolors in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Oberlin, 1976, p. 28, fig. 3.
Strobl, Alice. Gustav Klimt: Die Zeichnungen 1878-1903. Vol. 1. Salzburg, 1980, p. 126, cat. no. 392.
There is a mended vertical tear on the bottom margin and a small tear on the right margin. The paper, of poor quality, has become discolored and embrittled due to improper mounting and inherent acidity.
1. These are catalogued and illustrated in Alice Strobl, Gustav Klimt: Die Zeichnungen, 1878-1903 (Salzburg, 1980), cat. nos. 374-408.
2. Ver Sacrum(March 1898), p. 5.
3. Alice Strobl, Gustav Klimt: Die Zeichnungen, 1878-1903(Salzburg, 1980), p. 123.
4. Second series of "Allegories and Emblems," black crayon and wash heightened with gold and white, 41.9 x 30.8 cm, Vienna, Historisches Museum, inv. 25007; reproduced in Alice Strobl, Gustav Klimt: Die Zeichnungen, 1878-1903 (Salzburg, 1980), p. 116, no. 340.
5. Oil on canvas, 41 x 66 cm, Vienna, Österreichische Galerie im Belvedere, inv. D84; oil on canvas, 80 x 49 cm, The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma, Norman; reproduced in Johannes Dobai and Sergio Coradeschi, L'Opera completa di Klimt (Milan, 1978), cat. nos. 68 and 142, respectively.
6. Frank Littlefield, Klimt(London, 1990), pp. 131-73.