Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt)

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Gustav Klimt-Danae 1907
In the 2013 movie La Vie d’Adele-Chapitres 1 & 2 (Blue is the Warmest Colour), a masterful  study of love, sexuality but above all else class, there is a particularly telling scene during the party at the beginning of Chapter 2.  Invited to sit down in the home she shares with Emma, Adele is asked what she does by Emma’s friends. Her response that she is a teacher barely elicits acknowledgement and soon the conversation has turned to the Austrian artist Egon Schiele who the friend is studying for her thesis. Emma counters that though she likes Schiele she finds him too tortured, too dark and too obscure and she prefers Klimt. Klimt is dismissed by the art historian as ‘florid and decorative’. Adele looks lost and returns to her hostess duties.

Although it could be argued that the above exchange sets Klimt and Schiele in a needless competition when in real life they shared a mentor-pupil relationship (Klimt was 30 years older than Schiele), a close, long lasting friendship, muses (most infamously Wally Neuzil, who went from Klimt to Schiele and then back to Klimt again), and themes, most notably the female nude in overtly erotic situations, their art is markedly contrasting. Schiele gaze is uncompromisingly morbid, rawer and decidedly more edgy. Whereas Klimt, at least in the major paintings, is resplendent with gorgeous semi-abstract decorative motifs borrowed for Byzantine, Greek, Celtic and Egyptian art, leading it to be easily assimilated with bourgeois ideals of beauty. Regardless of this, Klimt’s work is undeniably sexy.

Klimt’s studio was populated day and night by cats and naked models. He never married and was rumoured to have fathered seventeen children on various lovers. His promiscuity resulted in syphilis which undoubtedly coloured his lush, decadent vision. He died in 1918 from complications arising from contracting influenza in the worldwide epidemic of that year that killed up to 50 to 100 million people.

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66 thoughts on “Dreams of Desire 57 (Gustav Klimt)

  1. Klimt’s forest scenes were very good too – he was so good with colours and the semi abstract nature of his work is much imitated and never really surpassed in all these yrs. I think the sexiness of his era is far closer to true elitist fine art principles than more troubled works by Courbet and Manet, here in England we could never compete due to the whole “under the counter” nature of the representation sex. Something a bit stuffy and hypocritical about the establishment view of Klimt I think! After all, both Klimt and Schiele’s works went on to become prized possessions of those who live in the greatest of luxury – surely an image depicting the finer (sic) things is more appropriate to that status than Schiele’s nightmarish figures!

    Are you familiar with the story of Oskar Kokoschka’s weird sex doll? I heard the story a few yrs ago, I see Klimt as the last in the line of classical artists, the modernists are so perverse by comparison! Kokoshka must have got some pretty weird looks acting like that 🙂 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-28673669

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Personally I love Klimt and I find most of Schiele very unsettling. I mentioned this little vignette from Blue is the warmest colour because it is a great movie and the characters preference is really more about how the character see themselves. Emma is avant garde but not too avant garde (as the story arc shows later) the friend sees herself as radical and edgy (even though she is doing a PhD in art history and philosophy) while Adele is more concerned with life as opposed to art (though she loves literature). Although a lot of modern and contemporary art aims to subvert the mainstream culture, most of it gets swallowed up by that very culture and art becomes a symbol of prestige and wealth. Anyway thanks for the thoughtful and lengthy comment.

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      1. I think I saw Blue is the warmest colour on TV, it was a good one – I shall have to watch out to see it again, I do remember some good themes being dealt with. (I just been all over the net looking for one I saw a clip of but couldn’t find it for the life of me!) The French have done so many coming of age films! Lot of good ones, this may have been promoted as extremely explicit etc, but I think it was also quite brave and worth seeing – I like films by Lars Von Trier, he’s very good too!

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      2. It does have a extended explicit scene but it is so much more than that… Adele is adorable. I like Von Trier as well though not all his films but I love Antichrist and Melancholia

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  2. I have to go check Ogden’s links… You can’t tell where one body begins and the next begins in the very colorful one. These are amazing. The ‘Egyptian’ pieces are a combination of creepy and sensual. I am not familiar with Shiele. Will do my homework! And 17 children!!!! 😳

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      1. Well I would argue that there is nothing more proper and dignified in the world than naked lady parts…I do not know where this hang up about nudity came from but it is persistent

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  3. I do enjoy a sizzling hot film, so i may have just got carried away but I think it was a film called Q Desire (2011) the reviews on Amazon are varied, so it might be garbage, or it may have been some other film in the genre, I see trailers on Tumblr sometimes for quite good subculture stuff I never heard of, also some very good stuff tho, such as Jim Jarmusch films, which would have passed me by otherwise!

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      1. Yes, I saw that one too! I loved La Piscine, and the more recent copycat A Bigger Splash – on a rather different tack, if you haven’t seen Stranger by the Lake – its just as good! Its so well made, ah, so many films I waste my hrs away!

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  4. I am fascinated by the way that Art, Music, Film, Fashion, Pop Culture, Philosophy, Politics and socio-sexual mores follow each other in cycles that assimilate, mutate, and replicate themselves again and again.
    In the midst of being swept away by each trend, we often run the risk of suffering the delusion that somehow, we alone are unique or original, which in a sense we may be, insofar as how we draw upon earlier influences. Even eclecticism is cyclical.
    You bring a very wide frame of reference into your dissertations and it is fascinating and enlightening.
    I am grateful of that, since there are few other resources like this for me to draw upon at this juncture in my life.
    Thanks.
    Namasté
    नमस्ते
    Chazz Vincent

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    1. Well as Nietzsche (I think it was Nietzsche anyway) said in an entirely different context… there is nothing new under the sun…or as the quote from Hegel completed by Marx… history repeats itself, first as a trade guy then as a farce. Thank you Vincent

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      1. Nietzsche came out with the God is dead statement but realised that this would lead to nihilism and he thought philosophy’s goal was to overcome nihilism, hence his theory of Eternal Recurrence and the Superman. The nothing new quote I believe is in relation to the Eternal Recurrence. Marx remark is cynical but with an undercurrent of sadness. Later Joyce would later remark that history (in the Hegelian sense) was a nightmare from which is was trying to awaken from

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  5. Mr. Cake, I’m drawn to your post. I’ve been in a similar situation and identify with Adele from the piece you shared. I’d like to read more, so I appreciate your sharing a bit of it here. The header picture makes me smile, probably because I’m a redhead, but there is a realness to the painting I enjoy. I see truth. My favorite painting is the 5th one down in the series you shared. The one with the goldfish, I presume. It furthers my curiosity and gives a nod to my zodiac. Overall, the pencil drawings, in their most raw, are a delight. My ex- husband is an artist and architect. I have an sincere appreciation for lead, ink and charcoal. These all remind me of young love. I adore them. Thank you for sharing your gift. Always a pleasure to be here with you.

    I’ve obviously rambled. A lot. My apologies first.

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    1. Thank you Ms Dawn no need to apologise I raised a lot of points in the post and you pointed out a lot of them. Blue is the warmest colour is a truly excellent movie, people honed in on the lesbian aspect and its explicitness but it is also a masterful exploration of character and class, as the vignette shows. Klimt loved redheads, they seem to have been his favourite, his Water Serpent II is also of redheads and I used it as the header of The Succubus which is a short and suitably decadent prose piece of mine. The painting you mentioned is actually called goldfish and is a superb painting. So you must be a Pisces. Thanks for the comment hopefully I addressed most points.

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  6. You know how you can really appreciate someone but not actually feel it speaks to you? That’s how I feel about Klimt. He is necessary, original, a leader, an important part, but for me his work leaves me flat in a way his acolyte does not. I don’t know why. I really don’t know why .I wish I did. I find his faces/breasts very beautiful and now that I am seeing them again I think I need to reprise my earlier comment about Klimt being more formal and Egon being more ruddy, as I can see it in both, but for me, whilst I’m glad the work exists and I would happily appreciate it, it doesn’t do more for me. I have no idea why, maybe we access certain works based purely on an emotion in which case these are very ‘pretty’ but do not access that emotion in me. Either way I appreciate them – the pattern making juxtaposed against the intimacy and sensuality.

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    1. As well as being ambivalent about Schiele I am ambivalent about Klimt. I can see why people think he is bourgeois and decorative but I still maintain that his work is sexy, which is obviously a double edged sword.

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