A major work from the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt has returned to Vienna where it will be shown in its homeland for the first time in nearly 60 years, after museum officials pieced together its tumultuous history.
“Water Serpents II,” which depicts nymphs grappling with a red serpent, was completed in 1907 during Klimt’s so-called golden period, when he embraced the gold-leaf techniques he is known for today.
Rarely seen Klimt painting returns to Austria after 60 years
Visitors look at the painting ‘Water Serpents II’ (Wasserschlangen II, 1907, on loan from HomeArt, a collection founded in Hong Kong by Rosaline Wong) by Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), in Vienna, Austria February 2, 2023, at The Belvedere Museum, the institution that already houses an important collection of Gustav Klimt’s works. A canvas with a turbulent history by the most famous of Austrian painters, Gustav Klimt, will be shown to the public from February 3 for the first time in nearly sixty years in his country of origin. (AFP/Joe Klamar)
But unlike many of his other works it has rarely been seen, last exhibited in the Austrian capital in 1964 before falling into obscurity.
The painting was originally purchased by the Steiners, an Austrian art collecting family, and was looted by the Nazis after Germany annexed Austria in 1938 and Jenny Steiner fled the country.
It was later purchased by the Austrian film director Gustav Ucicky, Klimt’s “illegitimate son”, according to Markus Fellinger, curator of the new exhibition at the Belvedere Museum.
Ucicky’s widow is said to have exhibited the painting in 1964, and since then it had largely been kept from public view, Fellinger told AFP.
But it re-emerged in 2013 when the widow surprised the art world by agreeing to sell it the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, president of the AS Monaco football club, for $112 million.
Rybolovlev then sold it two years later to its current owner, the HomeArt collection founded in Hong Kong by Rosaline Wong.
The Belvedere, working with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, was able to borrow “Water Serpents II” as they put together a show on the artists and works that inspired Klimt.
Unable to finance the six-figure sum required to insure the work, the Belvedere offered instead its restoration expertise to include it in the show that opens Friday and runs through May 29.
Water Serpents I, 1904 by Gustav Klimt
Klimt returned to the theme of ‘sensual women in water’ in two works know as Water Serpents I and Water Serpents II. Water Serpents I is not an oil painting, and its pale, unusual colouring is in part dictated by the medium used.
It does not differ much from the preliminary drawings that Klimt used for reference, apart from the addition of the gold paint, and the green and gold-leaf thread entangled around the women’s bodies.
The unambiguously lesbian embrace of his models would perhaps have been unacceptable had it been presented as a straight portrait.
However, by renaming the work and giving it an allegorical theme and by adding the fish-like serpent behind the bodies and adorning every surface with gold and pattern, Klimt was able to show the painting to Vienna without fear of censorship.
The basic genres of Klimt’s art remained unchanged up to the time of his death – portraits, landscapes, and allegories.
In his last period, however, these familiar genres were treated with greater expression of feelings and the picutures became less abstract.
Human types were no longer disguised in the context of myth or fairy tale.
They appeared before the viewer in unvarnished reality.
In a later painting, Women Friends, Klimt portrayed lesbianism much more openly.
A naked young girl with parted lips rests her head against her lover, who holds a wrap, partly covering their nudity.
Women Friends – Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt’s Masterpieces
.Ads by: Memento Maxima Digital Marketing
SPACE RESERVE FOR ADVERTISTMENT
News Desk (AFP)
● Fri, February 3, 2023