Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Portrait of a Lady in Black, 1894, Gustav Klimt
The National Gallery's exhibition of Viennese portraits has elicited plenty of carping and quibbling from the critics ... but I thought they'd completely missed the point.
This is a portrait of a society ... middle-class, wealthy, unsure of itself ... for very good reason as history would show all too soon.
I was far more interested in the sitters, than in the artists, who seemed so real they could step out of the gilded frames for coffee and Sachertorte.
Look at the Lady in Black, at her exquisite silk dress with its jet beading, her gold jewellery and that porcelain complexion. (Click on the picture and you'll see the details better.) She was actually the wife of Vienna's master baker and that faint suggestion of a double chin hints at what might happen if she over-indulges in her husband's patisserie.
She is just in the nick of time to be painted by Klimt, who is still fairly young and affordable. (I don't think I've ever seen an early Klimt before, but isn't this one lovely, too?)
Another five years or so and his prices will have soared out of the baker's reach. And the Lady in Black would have been depicted rather more like this:

Portrait of Hermine Gallia, 1904

Hermine lived in grand style on Wohllebengasse - Good Living Street - and, perhaps fortunately, died before her family had to flee from the Nazis to start a new life in Australia.

Anybody who has read The Hare with Amber Eyes will be fascinated by this exhibition. There is a photograph of Edmund de Waal's great-grandmother Emmy, dressed for a ball as a Titian duchess. Emmy's Viennese palace was ransacked by the Gestapo and, though she escaped to Czechoslovakia - not a good choice - she committed suicide, unable to cope with this cruel new world.

But Vienna had already experienced an epidemic of suicides among wealthy, Jewish gilded youth.

Ria Munk on her Deathbed, 1912
Beautiful Ria Munk was only 24 when she shot herself through the heart after a failed love affair. Her parents rejected Klimt's first portrait of their daughter on her deathbed - far too distressing (many years later, seemingly, it was bought by Barbra Streisand) ...
And they settled on this one instead, of Ria in a cascade of tulips, anemones and carnations.

Ria Munk III, 1918

So many stories and so sad.


Noelle the dreamer said...

Very sad Mrs. Miniver's Daughter but that's the fabric of life isn't it?
Thank you Mary for sharing, love the Lady in Black portrait!

mary said...

She is rather fab, isn't she? Reminded me of Sargent's Madame X, but much more bourgeoise and respectable.

Cosy Books said...

Oh dear...so sad indeed. Hope there was a slice of something nice from the cafe afterwards to lift your spirits.

mary said...

Straight home for sticky homemade gingercake, Darlene - I barely got my coat off before I dived into the tin. Strange, but there's not much left today!

elaine said...

I love the first picture it looks like she could just step out of the frame - beautifully painted.

mary said...

I'd never have guessed it was a Klimt, Elaine.

Toffeeapple said...

Ah, Mary you touched a nerve in me with this post. I have been a fan of Gustav and Egon since before I went to art college in 1962 and have lost count of the images that I have seen; then realised that those images most frequently viewed are not of the realist sort.

mary said...

Oh, you would enjoy this Toffeeapple. It's on until January if you get the chance. I've only been to Vienna once - and that was many years ago - so this was a rare treat.

Lucille said...

I must see this. I had a lengthy Klimt phase before* I * went to art college but didn't know of his early work. Vienna was where I got my (poor) A level results so I have not been inclined to revisit.

mary said...

I had Klimt posters on my wall as a student, Lucille. I was only about 19 or 20 when I went to VIenna, so memories are very hazy. I was in the pub when I got my A-level results which says a lot! But there wasn't the hysteria about them in those days.