Saturday, 20 December 2008

Gustav Klimt and Hope I

As I was saying in another post, it is always very interesting to know the story behind a painting or a photo. It always makes the piece more catchy. This morning, I found this story about Gustav Klimt's painting Hope I where you can see a naked pregnant woman. Artsjournal reports :

In 1903, a rumor raced through Vienna's coffeehouse scene: Gustav Klimt had impregnated one of his models, Mizzi Zimmerman. Klimt effectively confirmed the rumor with a scandalous painting, Hope I, in which he painted Mizzi not just pregnant, but looking out at the viewer, happily and confrontationally. While the pregnancy was a minor scandal in Catholic Vienna (this was no virgin birth), the painting quickly became a major one: Klimt planned to immediately exhibit it at an early-career retrospective of his work at the Secession.

Just before the exhibit opened, the education/culture minister of the Habsburg government, Wilhelm August von Hartel, intervened. von Hartel, who had defended and supported Klimt throughout a recent scandal over a government commission, told the artist: Congratulations on your forthcoming one-person Secession show. Remember how I've supported you... and don't you dare show Hope I at the Secession.

Klimt admired von Hartel. Klimt knew that von Hartel had incurred the wrath of Vienna's powerful, ruling anti-Semites for supporting him and he was genuinely appreciative. He acquiesced to von Hartel's request and Hope I was not shown publicly until 1910, and then in Munich, not Vienna.

Then as now, bold collectors snapped up daring pictures, and a wealthy Jewish textile manufacturer and art collector named Fritz Waerndorfer quickly bought Hope I. (Nearly all of Klimt's major collectors of this period were Jewish, and Klimt's art was known as Le Gout Juif, The Jew Taste.)

However: Waerndorfer realized that the painting was too outre to hang openly in his home, that there were some things that even the most progressive of Viennese art collectors just could not do. In keeping with local custom, Waerndorfer, the first major supporter of the Wiener Werkstatte, hired renowned Vienna designer Koloman Moser to design a cabinet in which he could keep the painting hidden from view.

Visitors were only invited to see it after tea (think of the tea hour as the Vienna equivalent of happy hour -- the tea was rum-soaked) when Waerndorfer's wife Lili would lead guests to where the Waerndorfers kept their paintings collection. Lili and a member of the serving staff would use separate keys to unlock the cabinet (wouldn't want the guests to think that the Waerndorfers were so perverted that they'd look at the painting alone!), show the guests Hope I, and then theatrically lock it back up, re-hiding it from view.

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