Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gustav Klimt: Vienna's Most Prominent Painter

Gustav Klimt is almost a member of our family. Read on to see why.

Klimt (1862-1918) is Vienna's most famous artist. Like many artists of the time, he had a classical art education, and his early work was rather traditional. He started with interior murals and ceilings in public buildings. In 1892, both his father and his brother (with whom he painted) died, and he had to assume responsibilities for their families. This was said to have a strong impact on his painting - and he veered into a personal style of his own. He was a founder and the most prominent member of the Vienna Secession, which supported unconventional young artists.

Around this time, he was commissioned to paint three murals for the University of Vienna. These erotic and overtly sexual paintings caused a major public outcry and were never displayed - and were eventually destroyed by the Nazis. As a consequence, Klimt never took another public commission. However, he continued to be successful by painting for private sources and enjoyed positive critical acclaim.

One of the most famous of his paintings was The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer completed in 1907. The wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer commissioned this portrait of his wife Adele. Like many of his other paintings during this period, it features generous use of gold leaf - which makes for a stunning effect - and intricate mosaic patterns. The incredible details make it understandable why it took three years to complete.

This painting has an interesting history. In her will, Adele Bloch-Bauer indicated that she wished the painting to be donated to the Austrian State Gallery. She died in 1925, but her widowed husband had to flee Austria later when the Nazis took over, and all of his art - including this painting - was confiscated. The painting remained in Austria after the war, as Austria thought it was rightfully theirs because of the will. However, in 2006, after a lengthy court case, the painting was awarded to one of Ferninand Bloch-Bauer's nieces, living in California. It was sold at auction for $135 million (the highest price ever paid for an individual painting at the time) by Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York.

Losing this painting was considered a national tragedy in Vienna. (Sort of like a court telling us we had to give the Statue of Liberty back to France.) Before the painting left Austria, everyone was invited to come say goodbye. The entire city was plastered with posters that said "Caio Adele". It was at this time that my daughter and her family moved to Vienna and immediately noticed these posters everywhere. They were very impressed with the story - and that a city was so in love with a painting. They decided if they ever had another girl, she would have to be named Adele.

In September 2007, they had a little girl born in Vienna - and her name is Adele.

While I was in Vienna, The Belvedere, which is a huge 18th Century palace that is now a museum of Austrian art, had a special exhibit in honor of Klimt and the 100th anniversary of the Secessionist 1908 Kunstschau (art exhibit). They attempted to replicate the exhibit as it was in 1908, borrowing originals whenever possible.

For this exhibit, our whole family went so we could pay homage to Adele's namesake. Unfortunately, the Neue Gallery would not loan that painting to the Belvedere, so there was only a replica. Adele did not seem to be bothered, but her older sister Maple was incensed. There were many other original Klimt paintings - as well as work by other artists. We purchased prints of the Adele painting in the museum shop, and Maple was appeased by getting a bookmark with the Adele painting - which she used religiously until I left.

So you see why we consider Adele and Klimt part of our family.

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