Developments in the 19th Century

 





Art Styles in 19th century - Art Map



 




Gustav Klimt



 


 

 
   


Gustav Klimt






 


Reconstruction of the Klimt room, from plans drawn up in the studio of Professor
Hans Hollein; right side wall.



 



The Hymn to Joy and the Beethoven Frieze



 

For Gustav Klimt, philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence did not seem to guarantee a happy or fulfilled life for any man, as was made clear in his Faculty paintings for the University. He and his fellow Utopians saw art, and art alone, as having the power to bring salvation, which explains the particular importance that the Secessionists attached to the total work of art.
In this spirit they determined to make their fourteenth exhibition a special event and experience - a total work of art. The exhibition was mounted in 1902, in honour of Max Klinger, whose Beethoven sculpture formed the centrepiece. The whole exhibition became a Beethoven celebration. The composer was something of a cult figure at the time, public enthusiasm having been fired by Franz Liszt's and Richard Wagner's reverential admiration of him. At the same time, in France, Bourdelle was making his great Beethoven mask and Romain Rolland writing his "Life of Beethoven". Klimt and his friends saw in Beethoven the incarnation of genius, and in his work the glorification of love and of the sacrifice that can bring redemption to mankind.
Klinger's statue is of a heroic Beethoven. There is a sacral quality in it, reminiscent of Phidias' "Zeus". The heroically naked stance of the martyr and redeemer, with clenched fist and upward-turning gaze, gives a perfect indication of the Secessionists' intentions.
Josef Hoffmann was responsible for the interior decoration of the Secession House for the exhibition. He used bare concrete in order to create as neutral a setting as possible. Furthermore, a total synaesthetic experience was planned, which included music: the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was performed, in a new orchestration for woodwind and brass conducted by the Vienna Opera's then musical director, Gustav Mahler.
Finally, Klimt created his Beethoven Frieze for this exhibition. He intended that it should last only for the duration of the exhibition and therefore applied it directly to the walls, using light materials so that it could easily be taken down again. Fortunately it was preserved, although for decades it was not on show to the public; not until 1986 did it become possible to view it once more. The frieze has therefore remained the least known, and the most mythologised, of Klimt's works. He himself clearly saw it as a symbolic transposition of Beethoven's last symphony.
The exhibition catalogue is informative in this respect: "The paintings which extend like a frieze along the upper half of three walls in this room are by Gustav Klimt. Materials: casein paint, stucco, gilt. Decorative principle: consideration of the layout of the room, ornamented plaster surfaces. The three painted walls form a sequence. First long wall, opposite the entrance: the yearning for happiness; the sufferings of weak mankind; their petition to the well-armed strong one, to take up the struggle for happiness, impelled by motives of compassion and ambition. End wall: the hostile forces; Typhoeus the giant, against whom even gods fought in vain; his daughters, the three Gorgons, who symbolise lust and lechery, intemperance and gnawing care. The longings and wishes of mankind fly over their heads. Second long wall: the yearning for happiness is assuaged in poetry. The arts lead us to the ideal realm in which we all can find pure joy, pure happiness, pure love. Choir of angels from Paradise. 'Joy, lovely spark of heaven's fire, this embrace for all the world."

 

 


Beethoven Frieze, 1902

A tribute to the genius whose music is to be the salvation of the soul of mankind, Klimt's frieze is based on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
It comprises three parts: "Yearning for Happiness" encounters "Hostile Forces", but finally triumphs with the "Hymn to Joy".

 

 


Beethoven Frieze (detail)

 

 

 


Beethoven Frieze: Hymn to Joy (detail), 1902

Wagner's commentary on Beethoven's Ninth Symphony seems to prefigure Klimt's approach to the work: it is "a combat of the soul struggling to attain joy against the pressure of those hostile forces that intervene between ourselves and earthly happiness".

 

 


Beethoven Frieze (detail)

 

 


Beethoven Frieze (detail)

 

 

 


Beethoven Frieze: Yearning for Happiness (detail), 1902

Group of the Well-Armed Strong One, with Ambition and Compassion. Prayers are the extrinsic forces brought to bear on the well-armed strong one by weak, suffering humanity, whereas compassion and ambition are the intrinsic forces which impel him to take upon himself the struggle for happiness.

 

 





 

For a long time, Klimt had been seeking an answer to the ultimate questions of human existence. In the three University paintings, a negative answer had emerged: philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence were found wanting; resignation and melancholy were expressed in consequence. Now, however, Klimt had found the way to a Utopian vision on a grand scale, which was shared by the other Secessionists: the salvation of mankind through the unique power of art and of love.
Yet his frieze met with embattled rejection. He was criticised for being bloodless and rigid. The figures were considered repellent. The three Gorgons, allegorising a lack of chastity, purity and temperance, caused a particularly vehement outcry, since this part of the frieze was strewn with male and female genitalia, spermatozoa and ovules. Most visitors were repelled by this, though a few were drawn to it; financially, the exhibition was a disaster.
One possible explanation for public reaction to the frieze may lie in the enhanced independence of form, line and ornamentation; in achieving this, Klimt was taking a decisive step towards Modernism. This sovereignty means that form is no longer subordinate to content; rather, it develops a life of its own. with its own content. It was difficult for the public to grasp the optimistic, Utopian import of the frieze, in which the final embrace signifies the redemption of man by woman. Instead, people tended to see only what was immediately obvious, such as the ugliness of some of the female figures.
In his study of Klimt's "Beethoven", Jean-Paul Bouillon argued that there was no real liberation in the sexuality thus unveiled. "On the contrary, the goal he reaches is a double nightmare: that of the castrating woman, whose sword is no longer the symbolic one of Judith I (1901) but her own sex; and that of the lechery of woman, whose arousal of pleasure, being self-directed, threatens man. The first appears in the central panel in the shape of three Gorgons..; the same three figures appear in Jurisprudence, with their victim, where they show very clearly what lies in store for the voyeur disguised as viewer. The second forms part of the symmetrical group beside Typhea and further on, somewhat more fully, in Gnawing Care, which includes an allusion to the syphilis which Klimt is known to have particularly feared... The child-woman with her perverse, polymorphic sexuality, whose portrait Freud drew in his 'Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality' (1905), is all the more disquieting because of her self-sufficiency: there is no place for man in this central panel."
Man is singularly absent in most of Klimt's work, his rare appearances serving only to heighten the impact of woman. In turn-of-the-century Vienna, man was evidently threatened from all sides, and was more or less excluded from what was a woman's world dominated by woman.

   


Beethoven Frieze (detail)

 

 

 


Beethoven Frieze: Hymn to Joy (detail), 1902

This embrace for all the world.
Poetry: Yearning for happiness is assuaged in poetry.

 

 


Beethoven Frieze (detail)

 

 

 


Beethoven Frieze: Hostile Forces (detail), 1902

 From the panel dedicated to "Hostile Forces'": the three Gorgons - Disease, Madness and Death.

 

 

 


Beethoven Frieze: Hostile Forces (detail), 1902

The giant Typhoeus, a hideous ape with serpent's tail and wings, terrifying antagonist of the gods.
 

 
 


Aubrey Beardsley
Cover for
"Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves"

1897

Beardsley and Klimt share a taste for the most extravagantly elaborate and super-refined ornamentation.


Beethoven Frieze: Hostile Forces (detail), 1902

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