Saturday 03 December 2022

Golden Boy: gem of an exhibition puts Klimt into context

Water Serpents II, on public display for the first time in 60 years, Courtesy of HomeArt.

A new exhibition at the Van Gogh Museum presents Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt for the first time alongside the artists who inspired him – including Van Gogh.

The exhibition, Golden Boy Gustav Klimt, which opens on October 7 and runs until January 8 2023, is expected to be a blockbuster and was postponed for two years due to the pandemic.

‘This is a real moment,’ said Emilie Gordenker, director of the Van Gogh Museum. ‘This exhibition on Gustav Klimt and what inspired him has been planned for a very long time. Together with the Belvedere Museum Vienna, we have conducted extensive research…so this exhibition can show for the first time the relationship between Klimt and his sources of inspiration.’

It explores, for instance, how some of the Austrian artist’s later landscapes were inspired by Van Gogh, but also how his sensual compositions drew from celebrated contemporary works by John Singer Sargent, Monet, Rodin, Matisse and Toulouse-Lautrec.

As a founder member of the Vienna Secession modern art group in 1897, Klimt created influential exhibitions and publications and was exposed to multiple other artists.

The exhibition tracks his own development through time, from his classical training, through a period of increasingly erotic portraiture – which soon scandalised contemporary Austria – to his latter-day focus more on landscapes and decorative art.

Reproduction of Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze  Photo S Boztas

The exhibition includes the gold painting style that made Klimt’s name as well as a reproduction of his 1902 Beethoven Frieze, a masterpiece condemned as obscene in its time. It includes, movingly, the mysterious and unfinished painting, The Bride, which was found on his easel when he died in 1918, aged 55.

Mounting the exhibition was a kind of ‘treasure hunt’ too, said head of exhibitions Edwin Becker: many pieces were reclaimed as Nazi looted art and disappeared into private collections, others were lost during the Second World War, and since the artist sometimes spent years on works, there were not so many in the first place.

He said the museum was delighted to secure a loan of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, an iconic painting once owned by Oprah Winfrey which had since gone into a private collection. Other works feature philanderer Klimt’s perhaps most important muse, fashion designer Emilie Flöge, as well as commissioned portraits including young woman Ria Munk on her deathbed.

Be inspired with Klimt motif stickers Photo: S Boztas

The museum also commissioned contemporary artist Bas van Beek to make work inspired by Klimt, including cushions, wallpaper and motif stickers, which visitors are invited to stick in their own pattern on the staircase between the exhibition’s two floors.

Gordenker thanked a larger-than-usual list of exhibition sponsors including Rosaline Wong and HomeArt, the Turing Foundation, Fonds 21, the Mondriaan Fund, the Blockbusterfonds, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Stichting Zabawas, the Creative Industries Fund, the Rembrandt Association, Hyundai and the Fanzhi Foundation for Art and Education.

‘I can imagine that people ask why Klimt is in the Van Gogh Museum,’ said Gordenker. ‘We are of course the world authority on Van Gogh, but we do more than that. We collect and exhibit on his contemporaries and people who were inspired by him. I would advise everyone to book a ticket in advance, because we expect that this exhibition will be very busy!’

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