Gustav Klimt is perhaps best known for his use of gold in his most iconic paintings. Whether that was done as a tribute to his gold engraver father, or simply the allure of the glitter of the chemical element, the chemistry worked wonders on canvas.The exhibition, Au Temps de Klimt – La Sécession à Vienne (In the Time of Klimt – The Vienna Secession), at the Pinacothèque de Paris through June 21, displays two of his most iconic glittering works and traces the development of Art Nouveau in Vienna, known as the Secessionist movement, at the start of the twentieth century, and Klimt’s pivotal role in the movement.
Before the Secessionist movement, traditional painting was considered the highest form or art. But the Secessionists believed that all art was of equal importance. To promote their ideas, Klimt and a group of like-minded artists split from the traditionalists and in 1897 founded what became known as the Viennese Secession, “secession” being shorthand for the split.At age 35, Klimt became the group’s president and principal spokesperson.
In keeping with the Secessionist view of art, the over 180 items on display in the exhibition include ceramic sculpture, furniture, jewelry, illustrated poems, graphic arts, and paintings by several contemporaneous artists.But clearly, the stars of the show are the Klimt paintings. Two are of particular note.
The first is the iconic Judith 1, which depicts the biblical character Judith after she beheaded Holofernes. It is highly gilded and Judith is bejeweled. The partial head of Holofernes is relegated to the lower right of the canvas. Clearly, Klimt wanted the viewer to focus on Judith, who is at once powerful and defiant.And seductive. Klimt said that “All art is erotic.” Well, maybe not all. But certainly this. She is woman both seductive and triumphant – and magnificent.
La Frise Beethoven is Klimt’s interpretation of the Ninth Symphony. At seven feet high and one-hundred-twelve feet long and rich with gilding and detail, it is as monumental and complex as its eponym. Its classical figures include a gilded knight and a huge ape representing Typhoeus, the deadliest monster in Greek mythology. The last section is dedicated to the arts in which, as the frieze depicts, humanity can find beauty, happiness, and love.
Eventually, fractures began to appear in the foundation of the Viennese Secession movement, and in 1905 Klimt and others quit the Secessionists, marking the decline of the movement.But their brief, shining moment is preserved in their work, and this exhibition captures perfectly their moment in time.
Pinacotheque de Paris: