It is the 150th anniversary of Gustav Klimts birthday that offers the Albertina
the occasion to pay tribute to the phenomenal draftsman. The Albertina is in possession of 170 of the artists most important drawings, among them sheets from all phases of his production. The presentation highlights Klimts unique talent as a draftsman, whose manner of thinking and method of work are immediately evident in his numerous figure studies, monumental work drawings, and elaborately executed allegories. It is the first time that these unparalleled works are presented in the Albertina the center of research for Klimts drawings in a solo exhibition after fifty years.
Gustav Klimt the Draftsman
Gustav Klimt was such a brilliant draftsman that he occupies a unique position worldwide. The central subject of his more than 4,000 sheets is the human particularly the female figure. From 1900 on, he revolutionized the depiction of the nude: his sophisticated erotic studies blazed the trail for the Austrian Expressionists uninhibited depiction of the human being, particularly for Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. But Klimt also pointed the way for younger colleagues with his figure studies allegorizing The Sufferings of Weak Humanity.
The practice of daily drawing after nude or clothed models remained crucial for Klimt throughout his life. The artist produced innumerable studies of women and men of all ages, as well as of children, in the context of his painted allegories of life. Untiringly exploring his figures poses and gestures, he fathomed the essence of specific emotional values and existential situations. As if in a trance, his figures, anchored in the picture plane, submit to an invisible order, whether in states of dream, meditation, or erotic ecstasy. It is the idea of a fateful bond between man and the cycle of life determined by Eros, love, birth, and death that provided the background for this kind of representation. The numerous studies for his portraits of women convey an air of majestic enrapture.
Klimts figures strike us as equally sensuous and transcendent. The artists endeavors are characterized by a subtle balancing act between the uninhibited stroke and formal discipline. His brilliant art of the line becomes manifest in every phase of his development whether in the photographically realistic precision of the 1880s, in the flowing linearity of the period around 1900, in the metallic linear sharpness of the Golden Style, or in the nervous expressiveness of his late years. Though being related to his paintings, Klimts drawings constitute a world of its own and, because of the immediacy of their expression, offer deep insights into the artists working methods and intellectual universe.
The Klimt Collection of the Albertina
In the possession of 170 works by the artist, the Albertina holds one of the most comprehensive collections of Gustav Klimts high-carat drawings. The sheets exemplify all phases, techniques, and genres of representation in the artists production. Klimt frequently relied on black, red or white chalk, later on pencil, occasionally on pen and ink, or on watercolors. The range of his works functions spans from figure studies and illustrations for books to monumental preparatory sheets and meticulously detailed allegories. Besides studies of female and less frequent male heads, the exclusive genre of completely executed portrait drawings is excellently represented. Of particular interest are the series of studies connected to various paintings; they will be shown in the exhibition in their entirety for the first time.
The Albertina as a Center of Research for Gustav Klimts Drawings
The Albertinas position as a center of research for Gustav Klimts drawings was established by the exhibition activities and studies of Alice Strobl, who was curator at the Albertina, before she became its Vice-Director. From the 1960s on, she documented and investigated all of Gustav Klimts drawings scattered across the world. Between 1980 and 1989, the Albertina published the fourvolume catalogue raisonné of Gustav Klimts drawings that she wrote and which encompasses descriptions of nearly four thousand items. This work is still a milestone of Klimt scholarship. Beginning in 1975, the later Albertina curator Marian Bisanz-Prakken was of crucial assistance in dating the artists sheets. Since 1991, Marian Bisanz-Prakken has had sole responsibility for this cataloguing work; she will publish all new additions in a supplementary volume. Thanks to this continuity in the area of Klimt scholarship, the Albertina has for decades been the international authority on the assessment of Gustav Klimts drawings.
This is why the museum naturally felt the responsibility to devote a comprehensive exhibition to Klimts drawings on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his birthday. The last show in the Albertina presenting exclusively drawings by Klimt was to be seen on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the artists birthday in 1962. For the 50th anniversary of Gustav Klimts and Egon Schieles demise, the drawings of both artists were paid tribute to in an exhibition in 1968.
Next to 30 outstanding loans from collections in Austria and abroad, 130 of Klimts 170 drawings in the possession of the Albertina will be shown in the exhibition among them works presented in Vienna for the first time such as the life-size transfer sketch for The Three Ages of Woman, the iconlike drawing of a standing couple, for which the artist used gold and which was made in the context of The Kiss and Fulfillment, or the brush and ink drawing Fish Blood that has only recently turned up in a private collection.
The exhibition unfolds in four chapters that explore the main phases of the artists development. Though the comparison with the relevant paintings plays an important role, it is always the autonomy of the drawing that the presentation emphasizes. Each sheet constitutes a world of its own and often goes far beyond the representation of the theme in the respective painting.
Historicism and Early Symbolism (1882-1892)
This chapter surveys the years from the last phase of Klimts studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule to the crisis year of 1892 in which he lost his younger brother Ernst, with whom he had closely collaborated, and his father. Highlights of this group are the head and figure studies for the Burgtheater paintings and the spectacular Allegory of Sculpture, which already heralds the artists transition to Symbolism.
The Turn to Modernism and the Secession (1895-1903)
With his contribution to Allegorien, Neue Folge, Klimt professed his faith in Symbolism publically for the first time. In 1897, he was appointed president of the newly founded Secession. The works presented in this section include Klimts illustrations for Ver Sacrum, portraits of anonymous sitters, as well as numerous studies for his faculty paintings Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence and the Beethoven Frieze. His studies for portraits of women of Viennese society, a genre newly developed by the artist, constitute a group of its own.
The Golden Style (1903-1908)
Parallel to his work on his paintings in the Golden Style, Klimts creativity as a draftsman reached a culmination in these years. Around 1904, the artist switched from black chalk on wrapping paper to graphite pencil on Japan paper. In the context of his studies for Water Snakes I and II he thematized the taboo topics lesbian love and autoeroticism for the first time. This chapter of the presentation highlights the studies for pregnant women in Hope I and II, The Three Ages of Woman, The Kiss, Fulfillment and Expectation in the Stoclet Frieze, Judith II (Salome), and the first version of Death and Life. A series of studies for various portrait paintings are shown next to various autonomous, painterly portrait drawings.
The Late Years (19101918)
From 1910 on, Klimt increasingly focused on erotic themes in his work as a draftsman. He not only made entire series of studies for his major works The Virgin and The Bride, but also numerous autonomous drawings. The studies for portraits of women, for which he received many commissions in those years, occupy an important place. Concentrating on specific types, Klimt also dedicated himself to half-length and head-and-shoulder portraits of anonymous female sitters.