Society Can be Soft and Malleable like Gold

This article has also been published in Art Chooser. 

Gustav Klimt was part of the Secession movement in Austria that was enjoying a time of great vigour in the arts, breaking away from the pure historicism that was prevalent within the Kunstler Häus and other notable art institutions. Klimt was part of the vibrant intelligentsia that included philosophers, merchants, doctors out of which Freud`s psychoanalysis emerged and of course society women and that often opened their houses to this diverse mix of inhabitants to Vienna, that created the renowned Viennese Salons.

Judith I
Judith I 1908, has been considered his painting incarnating the femme fatale. She is the strong, independent woman challenging male dominance. In mythology, the German poet Friedrich Hebbel interpreted Judith as a widow who was a virgin and who then was attracted to the Assyrian Holofernes, but then proceeded to cut off his head as vengeance to her forced chastity. Judith continued to live on through artists such as Oscar Wilde in his dramatic ballad in 1893. She came to symbolise a femininity of strength, courage and complex ambivalences that contemporary attitudes to women would do well to embrace.

Sonja Knips

The Portrait of Sonja Knips in 1898, has become significant as it reveals a time when the haute bourgeoisie in Vienna was greatly influenced by women who had Jewish backgrounds; whom had been given equal status legally in 1867 and had become a thriving force in commerce, finance, industry and art. Klimt, through this portrait, signifies his securing of status as the portraitist of liberal (in the European sense) haute bourgeoisie, of which his patrons-the financiers, and industrialists were a part.

Adele Bloch Bauer I

Klimt was arguably captivated by the diversity of women`s sensuality that is evident in the richness of the portraits depicted here. He revealed the personal life and social status of the women Klimt portrayed. At the turn of the century with the “emergence of modernity”, fundamental social change gave women a new position in society, culture and ideology. It seems like the gold leaf in Adele Bloch not only plays around with the wealth and status that they had gained but also their defiance in rejecting conservative values that had historically come with these gains, particularly in a patriarchal world. Perhaps it was the very fact that it was now women who held a certain power within the dynamics of industrial and political life that open up the art then society to a liberal attitude in the golden fin-de-siecle.