Saturday, December 28, 2013


Home to an extraordinarily rich collection of eminent works by Gustav Klimt, the Leopold Museum, Vienna, celebrated the artist’s 150th birthday from the 24th of February to the 27th of August 2012 with an exhibition dedicated to this important exponent of fin-de-siècle Vienna, who is among the most celebrated artists of the 20th century.


While the oeuvre of Gustav Klimt is now world-renowned, the man and artist behind it has remained almost completely hidden. The anniversary exhibition Klimt: Up Close and Personal. Images – Letters – Insights showed Klimt in a different light, with select works being presented in juxtaposition with quotes from the artist himself. For this exhibition, the museum drew upon its rich Klimt collection, which includes chief works such as the allegory “Death and Life”, landscapes such as “Lake Attersee”, “The Still Pond” or “The Large Poplar II” as well as more than one hundred drawings.(See images below)

These renderings are complemented by other important works loaned to the museum and are presented side by side with statements made by the artist. By weaving together his life and his oeuvre, the exhibition reveals hitherto unknown aspects of Klimt’s

The artist caused many a controversy during his lifetime, which prompted him to increasingly retreat within himself. Klimt’s contemporary, the art historian Hans Tietze, wrote on this subject in 1919:

“The circumstances placed Klimt right at the center of the boisterous Viennese art scene, but he was actually a shy individual who abhorred making public appearances. […] Even his friends were hardly ever allowed to glimpse behind the wall that Klimt had built around himself.” (Hans Tietze, Gustav Klimts Persönlichkeit, 1919, p. 1)

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the man and artist Gustav Klimt has become enshrouded in countless cliches and myths, many of which this exhibition sought to dispel.

The exhibition touched upon various topics, ranging from his artistic methods and his formative influences to reports from his annual summer holidays at Lake Attersee, from information about his collectors, benefactors and the sale prices of his works to Gustav Klimt’s hitherto largely unknown role as a caring father to his illegitimate children and his take on the young artists of his time.

Almost all the landscapes Klimt created from the turn of the century onwards were inspired by motifs from his summer stays in the countryside. Very often the weather would thwart his plans, however, as he described in his letters to his mistress Mizzi Zimmermann, who had stayed behind in Vienna, writing that he would have to finish the paintings he started on site in his Vienna studio for lack of time. Showcased in this presentation were particularly striking examples of Klimt‘s magnificent landscapes, including some notable loans from national and international collections.

Another emphasis of the exhibition was on the reconstruction of Klimt’s studios, which again serves to highlight the artist’s private, non-public persona. Between 1892 and 1911 Klimt worked in a secluded studio cottage situated in the backyard of a town house.

The studio was a refuge for the artist, a place where he could withdraw from the public and be himself. It also served as his private kingdom, where the female nude models captured by Klimt in thousands of drawings congregated, earning it the reputation of a myth-enshrouded “hortus conclusus” already during the artist’s own lifetime. These reconstructions of his studios provide an ideal setting for the Klimt drawings selected for this exhibition from the Leopold Museum’s rich collection. Since the presentation also includes many of the original objects that Klimt surrounded himself with in his studios, such as a large number of original Japanese woodcuts, murals, theater masks and Japanese kimonos, Klimt is also speaking to us as a collector.

The paintings and drawings presented in the exhibition “Klimt: Up Close and Personal. Images – Letters – Insights” are complemented by a wealth of contemporary Klimt photographs, which are unprecedented in their number, density and quality. These historical photographs also explore the constant tension between the artist’s public persona and his private life. They show Klimt in a relaxed atmosphere among his friends in his typical painter’s coat on the lakeshore or on his quests for suitable motifs for his paintings. These pictures reveal to what an extent Klimt used photography as a means of self-stylization.

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Tod und Leben, 1910/15 Death and Life Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 180,5 x 200,5 cm Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 630

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Am Attersee, 1901 On Lake Attersee Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 80,2 x 80,2 cm Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 4148

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Die große Pappel I, 1900 The Large Poplar I Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 80 x 80 cm Privatsammlung / Private Collection, Courtesy Neue Galerie New York

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Die große Pappel II (Aufsteigendes Gewitter), 1902/03 The Large Poplar II (Gathering Storm) Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 100,8 x 100,7 cm Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 2008

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Apfelbaum I, um 1912 Apple Tree I, c. 1912 Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 109 x 110 cm Privatbesitz / Private collection

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Allee vor Schloss Kammer, 1912 Avenue in Front of Kammer Castle Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 110 x 110 cm Belvedere, Wien

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Italienische Gartenlandschaft, 1913 Italian Garden Landscape Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 110 x 110 cm Kunsthaus Zug, Stiftung Sammlung Kamm

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Der goldene Ritter (Das Leben ist ein Kampf), 1903 The Golden Knight (Life is a Battle) Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 103,5 x 103,7 cm Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Nagoya

GUSTAV KLIMT (1862-1918) Schönbrunner Landschaft, 1916 Schönbrunn Landscape Öl auf Leinwand / Oil on canvas 110 x 110 cm Privatbesitz, Graz / Private collection, Graz