December 29, 2016

"Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age"

One of the exhibitions I most wanted to see this season is "Klimt and the Women of Vienna's Golden Age, 1900-1918" on view until January 16, 2017, at the Neue Galerie.  So I took advantage of a rainy Thursday between Christmas and New Year's to stop in and catch the show before it's too late.

Although he never married, Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was certainly a ladies' man.  He fathered 14 children by his models and other working-class women, and he counted some of the most prominent ladies in fin-de-siècle Vienna as close friends.  Indeed, Klimt expressed his admiration for these women through some of the most beautiful portraits ever painted, many of which are on view here.

Ironically, Klimt was not primarily a portrait painter.  Known initially as a Symbolist and later as a founding member of the Vienna Secession Movement, Klimt's earlier works tended to be allegorical in nature and were often overtly erotic.  It was his reluctance to conform that induced him to refuse State sponsorship which in turn resulted in him relying on private commissions for economic survival.  These commissions were principally portraits of wealthy patrons that he completed at the rather stately pace of one per year making the twelve on view in this exhibition a very large portion of his output.

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer", 1907

If you've ever had the pleasure of visiting the Neue Galerie, you are already familiar with the fantastic Klimt paintings, both landscapes and portraits, on permanent view.  Even if you have never visited the Neue Galerie, you are probably aware of the star of the collection, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I" (also known as "The Woman in Gold"), confiscated by the Nazis and restituted to the family after an eight-year lawsuit after which it was acquired by Ronald Lauder at public auction.  For the duration of this special exhibition, visitors can see not only this masterpiece, but also its successor, "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II", on loan from a private collection.

"Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II", 1912

Of course, Klimt painted other women as well.  His main patron was Szerena Lederer, the Hungarian born wife of a wealthy industrialist, who commissioned portraits of herself and her daughter and at one point had amassed the largest collection of Klimt paintings in private hands.

"Szerena Pulitzer Lederer", 1899

"Elisabeth Lederer", 1914-1916

The exhibition also features 40 drawings, both preparatory and finished, relating to Klimt's portraits and a fine group of decorative objects like fans and leather goods that a Viennese lady may have used.  Also of interest are several examples of contemporary dress by Shanghai designer Han Feng that draw on the reform fashions of Klimt's companion Emilie Flöge.

Of course, no visit to the Neue Galerie is complete without a stop at their Viennese inspired restaurant, the Café Sabarsky.  As usual, I am unable to resist the temptation of a Kaffee und Kuchen and I enjoyed every morsel!  My wish for you, my dear readers, is that year ahead brings you beauty and sweetness is all you do, and that we can share many more adventures together in 2017.  Happy New Year!

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