Gustav Klimt – The Virgin

3 Mar

Today we’ll take a look at Klimt’s painting “The Virgin”, to me, his most vibrant and psychedelic work which signifies a stylistic change in his art and deals with a theme of girl’s sensual awakening. I will start with this ode to virginity from the novel “Valerie and her Week of Wonders” written in 1932 (but published in 1945) by a Czech Surrealist writer Vítězslav Nezval. Nezval was a teenage boy when Klimt and Shiele were created their works, and in those days they were all compatriots. Valerie is a seventeen year old girl who lives in this strange little village with her strange aunt, the atmosphere is reminiscent of Gothic novels and it’s more romantic than surrealist actually. One night she, along with other village virgins, goes to a sermon where a strange priest is instructing the virgins on how they should behave: “Oh virgin, do you know who you are? (…) You are an as yet uncleft pomegranate. You are a shell in which the future ages will ring. You are a bud which will burst open when the time is ripe. You are a little rose-petal floating on  the tempestuous ocean. You are a peach oozing red blood…”

Gustav Klimt, The Virgin, 1913

I am absolutely captivated by the colours, shapes and patterns in this painting. This isn’t Klimt’s “golden phase”, this is his colourful psychedelic phase, and it proved to be his last stylistic change before he died in February 1918. Klimt on acid; borrowing purples and yellows from Matisse and Bonnard, flowers and patterns from Japanese textiles and kimonos, daydreaming of the mosaics of Ravenna. The waterfall of colours is joyfully flickering, laughing, bursting with excitement, dancing and swirling around the pale maidens who are languidly floating in a dreamy kaleidoscopic world of their own; a floating island of love, a resplendent Cythera of their own. The rigor mortis of “The Kiss”, his most famous work and a representative of his golden phase, is now a thing of the past. Though the space is still flat and ornamental, it appears far more lively because there’s so much more going on; in a pyramidal composition six female figures are intertwined, their poses and face expressions differ, but they all have the same flesh; their skin is very pale with patches of blue and pink, which brings to mind Schiele’s nudes. Here and there breasts are protruding. They are not as seductive as the femme fatales in his earlier works were, here the colour is what captures all our attention. While the girls all possess similar features and doll-like faces, the pattern appears very unique and well planned. Negating the figure and giving free reign to the pattern might be a step towards abstract art.

Nonetheless, Klimt’s focus here is still on women, without a doubt his favourite thing to paint, and the face in the middle, right above that wave of purple, is the face that my mind keep coming back to. That is her – the Virgin. Her white mask-like face with closed eyes seems peaceful with a trace of anticipation in those blueish eyelids and lips pressed together; she is dreaming within her own dream. Her heart is fluttering with the anticipation of the delights that are to come, the ecstasy which is to awake her from her virginal slumber. Her eyes are closed; she doesn’t yet see and she doesn’t yet know, but the flowers blooming all around her are far less secretive about the desires awakening inside her. Her feelings are stirred, and her hopes sweet, but she patiently awaits the future. Gazing at her face and imagining her feelings made me think of this poem by a Japanese Poetess of the Heain period Ono no Komachi (c. 825-900):

Was I lost in thoughts of love
When I closed my eyes? He
Appeared, and
Had I known it for a dream
I would not have awakened.

Gustav Klimt, The Bride, 1917-18

A stylistic and symbolic continuation for the painting “The Virgin” might as well be Klimt’s unfinished work “The Bride” where the maiden figure is at the last step of her virginal life and about to enter a new phase, she is now ripe as a fig at the height of summer, bursting with sweet juices. Again, the close-eyed figure and the swirling pattern and abundance of colours is present. It’s interesting to notice that he painted pubic hair on the figure on the right, and began painting a vibrant dress over it, and I’m sure it wasn’t a sudden change of mind but rather a preference.

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6 Responses to “Gustav Klimt – The Virgin”

  1. elisabethm 4th Mar 2019 at 7:50 pm #

    Super interesting! The color palette is stunning 💛💙💚💜❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    • Byron's Muse 4th Mar 2019 at 11:00 pm #

      Thank you very much! I am delighted you enjoyed it. Yes, those colours are just bewitching, I cannot stop thinking about the painting, it’s so vibrant that I can almost hear music coming from it ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lautreamont 24th Mar 2019 at 5:41 pm #

    Always thought Klimt was overrated. I can’t see much psychedelic in his work.If you rip out the figures in the foreground of a lot of Gothic and Renaissance pictures the backgrounds display genuine psychedelic sensibility- the plasticity of the landscapes,perspective is altered- things in the distance are seen just as clearly as close up. Klimt’s pictures have always reminded me of Carlo Crivelli but Crivelli to me is way better – the kaleidoscopic colours,the hallucinatory clarity,the sinister Madonna’s and weird baby Christs.Very cool.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. nushbush 14th May 2019 at 3:14 pm #

    Hello! This article may relevant to my research for my IB Extended Essay. Where did you upload your biblio? Are there any important books you’ve read that have supported your points? If so could you pls reply to this message and let me know? thanks!

    Like

    • Byron's Muse 16th May 2019 at 10:54 am #

      Hello! Points in my posts are my own, my writing is based on my daydreams, feelings, fantasies. This isn’t academic writing and I don’t consult books to prove my point. I know how I feel about a certain painting and I don’t need my opinion confirmed by anyone else. I suggest you use the books about Klimt that are available to you, or that you can find in your library. Good luck with that essay!

      Like

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