Tag Archives: 1902

Gustav Klimt’s 105th Anniversary of Death – Portrait of Emilie Flöge

6 Feb

Austrian painter Gustav Klimt died on this day, 6th February, in 1918, from a stroke. His last words were “Call Emilie”, referring to Emilie Flöge: his life-long best friend, intellectual companion, muse and possibly a lover as well.

Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Emilie Flöge, 1902

I have been captivated by Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of Emilie Flöge” these days. It is this mesmerising blueness, at once dreamy and vivacious, and the pattern of the dress which seems to be dancing on my mind, moving almost in front of my eyes – the more I gaze at it the more it is coming alive. This is yet another one of Klimt’s wonderful portraits of the high-class Viennese ladies, but this is not just another Viennese lady. Who was Emilie Flöge and who was she to Klimt? In the simplest, or perhaps in the most complex of terms, Emilie was Klimt’s life companion. She was his muse and his best friend. Their relationship has been as much a subject of debates and gossips in their times as it is in our times.

Klimt was a notorious womaniser and a painter known for his provocative erotic themes, but in the end, Emilie was the one with whom he had exchanged more than four hundred letters and postcards, she was the one with whom he had been spending his summer holidays, she was the one with whom he collaborated artistically, and, perhaps most poignantly, she was the one he called for on his deathbed and she was the one who inherited half of his estate. Was she his lover in the physical sense of the word? Well, who knows really. The fact that Klimt has left no proof of their relationship in his letters means nothing, for he was not a man of words nor was he the man to kiss and tell. The discreet nature of their companionship doesn’t necessarily mean there wasn’t more under the surface. Emilie wasn’t a low-class girl or a prostitute as Klimt’s other models were. Despite her association with the bohemian circles, and mainly due to her fashion philosophies, Emilie was still part of the respectable society and had her own reputation to keep. One doesn’t need to flaunt what one has.

And how did they two meet? Well, Klimt’s younger brother and a fellow artist, Ernst, died suddenly in 1892. Klimt lost not only his brother but also his father that year and that left him with the responsibility of taking care not only of his own family but also of Ernst’s young bride Helene Flöge. Emilie was Helene’s younger sister, eighteen years old at the time, and she befriended Klimt by suggesting they both start learning French together. These innocent lessons have grown into a serious bond that laste for twenty-seven years, until Klimt’s death. From such a simple, unassuming root a beautiful golden flower of ‘Vienna Secession’ blossomed, or should I say perhaps, two flowers, intertwined yet separate, for Klimt and Emilie, despite their close bond, both had their own pursuits.

Ceiling mosaic “Garden of Eden”, barrel vault, Mausoleum of Galla Placidia (died 450), daughter of the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, Ravenna, Italy. Picture found here.

Emilie was a seamstress turned couturiere, and, in 1904 she became a business woman as well, having opened her own fashion salon called “Schwestern Flöge” (Flöge Sisters) together with her sister Helene. The dresses that they were designing were in the style and spirit of the Wiener Werkstätte or “Vienna Workshop” which was a productive association in Vienna, established around the same time, in 1903, by the painter and graphic designer Koloman Moser, the architect Josef Hoffmann and the patron Fritz Waerndorfer. The association brought together architects, artists, designers and artisans working in ceramics, fashion, silver, furniture and the graphic arts. Their ideas, in terms of fashion, were unconventional and reformative, continuing perhaps where the Victorian trend of the Artistic dress and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood had stopped.

The freedom in one’s clothing wasn’t merely a matter of feeling comfortable, it was a liberation from society’s restraints on a symbolic level. A lady freeing herself from the torments of the corset had made not just a practical decision, but a social statement as well. Designs of Emilie’s dresses had a loose high-waisted silhouette, flowing fabrics, billowing sleeves, comfortable in terms of form, inspired by the flowing Oriental styles of kimono and kaftan, and inspired in print by the kind of patterns that Klimt loved and often designed as well, a stunning mixture of geometrical and floral. Klimt himself loved to feel cozy and free, especially whilst painting and during his countryside holidays. He was often seen, and photographed even, in his garden wearing comfotable loose garments with no underwear and sandals on his feet.

Emilie Flöge wearing an Artistic Reform dress, photograph by D’Ora, 1907

Emilie Flöge and Gustav Klimt in a garden, both wearing their loose garments.

In May 1903 Klimt travelled to Ravenna and Venice, then spent the summer months pleasantly on the Attersee with the Floge familie, and in November the same year he made another trip to Italy and visited Padua, Pisa and Florence. This portrait of Emilie was painted in 1902, a year before Klimt’s Italian adventures, but, to me, it signifies a premonition of sorts, as though the fifth century mosaics of San Vitale and Galla Placidia had been calling out to him with their golds and blues, with their centuries old Byzantine charms. I do love the dress that Emilie is wearing in the portrait! It is just magnificent; flowing loose and freely as though it were a river of dreams, with those beautiful bishop sleeves, wide and then tight at the wrist, and the pattern with its blue swirls, golden circles, white dots, white ovals, then the shawl tight around her neck, like the goddes of Midnight, her pale moon-face arises from the blueness and then that voluminous hair which brings to mind the hairstyle from the portraits of the Spanish painter Velázquez. Hungarian writer and journalist Ludwig Hevesi wrote upon seeing the portrait: “another, unfinished portrait has come to us as if from a blue-mottled world of majolica and mosaic.”

I almost prefer the blueness of this portrait to Klimt’s future golden portraits, there is something ethereal, mystical and dreamy about it which brings to mind the nocturnal atmosphere of the ceiling mosaic in the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the daughter of the Roman emperor Theodosius I, in Ravenna, representing the “Garden of Eden” where the deep blue circular golden decorations represent the white corollas of moonflowers. As one may physically pass from the nocturnal atmosphere of the mausoleum of Galla Placidia, where one sees nothing but blueness wherever one ganders, to the bright and golden interiors of the Basilica of San Vitale, full of lightness and life, thus it seems that Klimt has symbolically passed from the starry night of the portrait of Emilie and exploded into the bright golden day that was his Golden period.

Stanislaw Wyspiański – Helena and Flowers

19 Dec

Stanislaw Wyspiański, Helena and Flowers, 1902

Polish painter, poet, and playwright Stanislaw Wyspiański was a very prolific artist despite his early death in 1907 at the age of thirty-eight. His mother had died of tuberculosis when he was seven, and his father was an alcoholic who was unable to take care of the family, and history repeated itself in Stanislaw’s life because his three young children were left fatherless after he died fairly young. Wyspiański’s paintings and his literary works are both seen as a bridge that succesfully connected the patriotic themes which were so popular in Romanticism and the modernist, Symbolist art currents of his times. His oeuvre mostly consists of portraits of women and girls, and some interesting landscapes. In the portraits of girls there is often an emphasis on the traditional clothing and his wife Teodora Teofila, whom he finally married in 1900, was a peasant herself which shows Wyspiański’s love for Polish countryside and the folkore tradition. His models were often his friends and family, and such is the case in this painting as well. Helena was Wyspiański’s first child and the only daughter, seven year old at the time this delightful painting was painted.

I love everything about this portrait; it is so simple and yet so stunning! Firstly, the vibrant colours. I love colours! The playful red pattern on the sleeve of the girl’s dress, the pink vase and the blue flowers; all these colours are so bubbly and fun and vibrant that the vast darkness of the table ceases to be the focus. Secondly, I love the girl’s face expression and the mood she is in. She is touching the bubble-gum pink vase with the tip of her finger and gazing at it with a calm, almost meditative curiosity. A strand of hair is partly covering her face but we can still see her sweet rosy cheeks. I can imagine Wyspianski gazing at his daughter’s sweet face gazing at the flowers and deciding to capture it in a painting. It also reminded me of a scene from Polanski’s film “Repulsion” (1965) where the shy and detached Carol (played by Catherine Deneuve) is left alone in the flat after her sister goes out on a date and she just sits in the kitchen crying because she feels lonely and left-out and suddenly she sees her reflection in the kettle. It’s an aesthetically interesting moment in the film. Similarly, little Helen here is detached from the outside world and is enamoured by the beauty of the flower pot. Lost in her world of daydreams, little did she know that her father was sketching her. The diagonal composition and the way the flowers are cropped also add to the painting’s appeal. And finally, another thing that I love is the faint reflection of the girl’s face in the surface of the table, what a wonderful little detail that makes the painting so special.

John William Godward – When the heart is young

10 Aug

The sweetest thing on earth is …. to do nothing and enjoy it! Late Victorian British painter John William Godward was born on 9th August 1861 and his life ended by a suicide in 1922 because, as he stated in a note that he left, “the world is not big enough for myself and Picasso”. His perception seemed to be that Picasso was so superior a painter that he had to reside from the position of the painter and from planet earth. A very sad ending to a life devoted to art.

John William Godward, When the heart is young, 1902

“you came and I was crazy for you
and you cooled my mind that burned with longing”

(Sappho, translation by Anne Carson)

“When the heart is young” is one of my favourite painting by Godward, perhaps even the favourite one. There’s just something about it that lures me to it, again and again. Perhaps it is the sweet indolence that speaks to my heart the most. I just love the warmth, sensuality and clear, vibrant in this painting. Every detail about it is perfect and precise and no element of the painting seems superfluous. A beautiful and dreamy dark haired young woman occupies the central place in the painting and everything around her; the marble bench and floor, a peacock fan, animal skin, flowers and the sea in the background all serve to accentuate the idleness and luxury that she is oozing. She is lazing around on a sunny summer day and has the luxury to do so; daydreaming and allowing the minutes and hours to pass by without any guilt or concern, for being idle is not a crime. Gorgeous masses of her black hair are seductively falling over her head, her large dark eyes are full of desire and dreams and her flushed cheeks speak of desires unspoken in words. She seems to exist on a diet of sunlight’s caresses, sweet summer wines and thoughts of love. The curvy line of her body stretched on the fuzzy warm fur is as seductive as the yellowish line that separates the azure blueness of the sea from that of the sky. I can imagine the soft, summery breeze rustling the distant cypresses, kissing the poppies and bringing the salty scent of the sea to the woman’s nose. And now some more of Sappho’s verses because they fill so well with the mood of idleness and undisturbed ripe and juicy fig sweetness:

“Come to me now: loose me from hard
care and all my heart longs
to accomplish, accomplish. You
be my ally.

here to me from Krete to this holy temple
where is your graceful grove
of apple trees and altars smoking
with frankincense.
And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping.
And in it a horse meadow has come into bloom
with spring flowers and breezes
like honey are blowing….”

(Sappho, translated by Anne Carson)

John William Godward, Dolce Far Niente, 1904

Marble and draped gowns worn by the indolent women in Godward’s paintings bring to mind the similar work of Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Godward was the protégé of Alma-Tadema and their styles hold similarities; they both drew inspiration from the imagined luxury of the Greek world, Ancient Roman Empire and the warm, rich, fragrant, mood of the Mediterranean, they both painted in a Neoclassical style with fine, elegant brushwork resembling that of Ingres, especially when the subject is that of a female body; both made paintings full of light and vibrancy. Paintings “When the Heart is Young” and “Dolce far niente” both show elegantly dressed women doing nothing, being sweetly idle in beautiful settings and thus they fall into the “dolce far niente” genre of painting. ‘Dolce far niente’ is a wonderful Italian expression meaning ‘sweet doing nothing’, and it illustrates the dreamy, hedonistic, self-indulgent nature of indolence, and the enjoyment of it. In the late 19th and early 20th century, in the artistic climate influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites and Aesthetic movement with its ‘cult of beauty’, popularity of this genre of paintings grew. Artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema, John William Godward and John William Waterhouse dared to tackle the subject and painted numerous vibrant and beautiful paintings of this theme.

There’s a certain pattern of beauty in all of these ‘dolce far niente’ paintings: a beautiful idle woman dressed in her finery, lazing around in sumptuous surroundings, doing nothing, gazing in the distance or at the viewer. Usually they’re presented in luxurious and idealised settings, aesthetically inspired by the Roman empire, lounging on animal skin, dressed in gorgeous diaphanous fabrics. Certain motifs appear in all of these paintings: finely painted marble balustrades or just marble in general, balconies overlooking the sea glistening underneath a perfectly blue sky with a few clouds, animal skin, clothes and hairstyles inspired by the styles of the Ancient world, flowers and flower pots, lush Mediterranean vegetation and plants such as oleander, lavender, cypresses, orange trees, even poppies, thyme, basil etc.

Claude Monet: London Calling – Absinthe Coloured Weather

22 Jan

Every day in London there is beautiful, absinthe-coloured weather. Is that enough to lure you here?‘ (*) – John Singer Sargent wrote in a letter to Claude Monet, on 28 December 1894.

P.S. This is my 300th post!

1903-04-claude-monet-the-houses-of-parliament-effect-of-fogClaude Monet, The Houses of Parliament (Effect of Fog), 1903-1904

And so Claude Monet arrived to London, drawn by Sargent’s promises of the absinthe coloured weather. ‘Cause London is drowning, and I live by the river….’ – Well, that’s not really what Monet had on mind, but his artistic eyes certainly craved to discover London’s magic. And so they did. There were three sights whose beauty Monet captured on his canvases many times; the Houses of Parliament, Charing Cross Bridge and Waterloo Bridge. This dedication to the subject and endless fascination with the same thing is something I really love about the Impressionists.

This wasn’t Monet’s first stay in England though. He spent some time there from September 1870, just after the outbreak of Franco-Prussian war, to May 1871, but his stay wasn’t particularly productive; he painted only six paintings. He did, however, get acquainted with works of John Constable and J.M.W. Turner, and this influenced his later work, especially Turner’s poetic yet turbulent seascapes. He visited London many times since, but this turn-of-the-visits have proven to very special for his art.

1899-1901-claude-monet-waterloo-bridge-overcast-weather-1899-1901Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Overcast Weather, 1899-1901

1903-claude-monet-waterloo-bridge-hazy-sunshine-1903Claude Monet, Waterloo Bridge, Hazy Sunshine, 1903

Monet hardly spoke a word of English, but that didn’t stop him from attending fancy parties and admiring the English culture and way of life. Even at Givery, he practically lived like an English gentleman, wearing suits made of English wool and eating English breakfast every morning. Monet simply fell in love with London in 1871 and he fantasised about painting Thames again, in a completely different manner. With years his painting style has become more whimsical, relaxed and dreamy. So, what stopped his from returning to England earlier? Well, he was occupied with painting his series of paintings portraying the Cathedral in Rouen and ‘wheatstacks’, but after the Dreyfus Affair, he became disillusioned with his homeland, and felt a need to just go away for a while. It’s interesting to note that Monet supported Zola, while Degas and Renoir, for example, became extreme anti-Dreyfusards.

1904-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-effect-of-sunlight-in-the-fog-1904Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, Effect of Sunlight in the Fog, 1904

In September 1899 Monet went on a six-week artistic holiday in England. He settled in the Savoy Hotel, ignoring the expenses, which provided him with great views of south London and the Thames. He went on to return to the same hotel for three months the following year, and in 1901 again. All these months spent in London resulted with his biggest ever series of paintings, and, in my opinion, it is one of the most magical of his series, comparable by beauty only to his water lilies. Claude Monet’s ‘London scenes’ are love poems to London, painted with such delicacy, extraordinary mastery of colours and beautifully captured atmospheric effects.

1903-claude-monet-1840-1926-the-houses-of-parliament-sunset-1903Claude Monet, The Houses of Parliament, Sunset, 1903

Here’s an interesting quote about Monet as a landscape painter:

Few landscape painters had been as inventive or as passionate and few had captured nature’s elusive ways with as much power and poetry. Few also were as individualistic or as moody, and few loved the sea more. Turner, therefore, was Monet’s soulmate and guide as well as a special challenge.‘ (Claude Monet – Life and Art, by Paul Hayes Tucker)

1902-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-1902Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament, 1902

As much as I admire the beauty of ‘Charing Bridge’ and ‘Waterloo Bridge’ series, my personal favourites are Monet’s dreamy portrayals of the ‘Houses of Parliament’ scenes, I find them so romantically exuberant and Gothic, and dreamy in their fiery reds, pink and purples amalgamating one into one another. Paintings from this series in purplish and pinkish shades are my favourites. ‘Houses of Parliament at Sunset’ down below is one that I really love: the colours are so nocturnal and decadent, the Houses of Parliament are protruding from the descending darkness like wraiths, while the alluring burning orange-pink sun invites the viewer to look on the right side of the canvas. Rich atmosphere present in all these paintings is the result of the ‘smoke from the bituminous coal that Londoners burned at the time that mixed with the moist conditions of the region.’

Monet’s ‘series paintings’ were imagined as studies of objects in a way that each painting shows a variation of colour and light effects. They were based on direct observations of nature, but have turned into dreamy illusions where colour, light and texture play more important roles than capturing the reality. Monet’s painting from his late phase are almost anticipating the fantasies of Abstract Expressionism.

1903-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-at-sunset-1903Claude Monet, Houses of Parliament at Sunset, 1903

Monet pained The Houses of Parliament in dusks, sunsets and mists, bathed in purples, pinks and blues, and some seventy years later, on 7th June 1977, The Sex Pistols played their anti-monarchy song ‘God Save the Queen’ on the boat, while passing The Houses of Parliament, singing ‘There is no future, England’s dreaming’. Many of them were arrested later.

I can’t help it wonder, if buildings could talk, what kind of stories or poems would their tell us? Culture, music and fashion changes, but they stand in silence for eternity, unless someone decides to destroy them, which sadly often happens. Buildings are witnesses to so many things; from peaks and decays of cultures, riots, gossips, kisses and whispers, laughters and shouting. They know everything, they’re worse than Daily Mail!

1899. Charing Cross Bridge - Claude MonetClaude Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, 1899

I remember when I saw the painting ‘Charing Cross Bridge’ in Berlin, and I didn’t think much of it. It seemed so pale, like there’s a gauze veil over it, and I was more drawn to Kirchner’s large canvases of frenzy and anxiety, to notice the simple dreaminess and meditative quality of this painting, woven with lightness, with gorgeous pale blue and the flickering water surface. The simplicity of composition reminds me of the Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, and their way of portraying nature, bridges and rivers.

I have a feeling that, with Monet, the older he got, the better his art was. His early paintings are interesting, no doubt about that, but they look rather conventional and stiff. On the other hand, his London scenes and Water lilies are all capable of inspiring a scale of emotions. He was about sixty years old when he painted those, and older, but I feel that this is the moment his art was truly ripe. That’s the thing that saddens me immensely when I read about an artist who died young, like Modigliani, what would their art develop into?

1900-1901-houses-of-parlilament-sunlight-effect-1900-1901-claude-monetClaude Monet, Houses of Parlilament, Sunlight Effect, 1900-1901

When Monet’s London scenes were exhibited in May 1904, conservative magazine L’Action wrote: ‘In his desire to paint the most complex effects of light Monet seems to have attained the extreme limits of art… He wanted to explore the inexplorable, to express the inexpressible, to build, as the popular expression has it, on the fogs of the Thames! And worse still, he succeeded!’

1900-1901-claude-monet-houses-of-parliament-londonClaude Monet, Houses of Parliament, London, 1900-1901

Do you hear that? London is calling Monet, just like it called Joe Strummer:

London calling, yes, I was there, too
An’ you know what they said? Well, some of it was true!
London calling at the top of the dial
After all this, won’t you give me a smile?
London calling’ (The Clash)*