Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line at Getty Museum

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The 19th century Austrian artist Gustav Klimt may be known as the father of Viennese modernism but in L.A., his name may be most recognized for his portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer. The painting was seized from the family by the Nazis during World War II and only returned to them after a lengthy series of legal battles by L.A. resident Maria Altman. When the portrait was shown at LACMA, people lined up to see it.


Gustav Klimt: Portrait of a Young Woman Reclining, 1987-1989
Black chalk; 45.5 x 31.5 cm. (17 15/16 x 12 3/8 in.)
J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Klimt's paintings are immediately recognizable for the blocks of colored pattern and gold squares that support the figures, often lithe women with flowing hair and robes. Yet, there has been less attention given to his drawings and to mark the 150th anniversary of the artist's birth, the Getty has mounted this show of more than 100 drawings, most selected from the collection of the Albertina Museum in Vienna.


Gustav Klimt: Portrait of a Woman in Three-Quarter Profile, 1901
Black chalk; 451. 31.1 cm. (17 3/4 x 12 1/4 in.)
Albertina, Wien - Schenkung Elisabeth Lederer

In the drawings, it is easy to see the artist's evolution from academic realism to a flowing, ethereal style in keeping with the dreamy concerns of the Symbolists. In fact, he was among the first artists to leave the Kunsterhaus, the venue for traditional painters, to form the Viennese Secession in 1897.


Gustav Kilmt: Fish Blood, 1989
India ink and pen on brown paper; Unframed 40 x 40.3 cm. (15 3/4 x 15 7/8 in.)
Private collection, courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York

Throughout his life, Klimt worked from live models, often nude, and in 1905, he left the Secession group to develop intensely personal vision concerning the powers of life and death. He celebrated the act of making love, of eros, in his heavily ornamented, structured paintings. Working from live models, however, the jittery energized lines of his drawings capture his own excitement and intimate observations. Slender, angular models are drawn with legs apart, often pleasuring themselves in what the Getty calls 'auto-erotic' drawings. Though startling to encounter in such galleries, they embody Klimt's passionate regard for women.


Gustav Klimt: Floating Female Figure with Outstretched Left Arm, 1900-1901
Black chalk; 41.5 27.3 cm. (16 5/16 x 10 3/4 in.)
Albertina, Wien

This show has a number of related lectures and concerts including one next week. In 1902, Klimt completed a decorative mural for the Secession building in Vienna that illustrated the final choral movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from 1824. The Getty show includes a reproduction of the mural along with the preparatory drawings. The L.A. Philharmonic is performing that symphony this Tuesday, July 10, at the Hollywood Bowl and, with the Getty, has commissioned video imagery by artist Herman Kolgen to accompany the Ode to Joy finale. In case you have not yet had enough fireworks!

The show was organized by Getty curator Lee Hendrix and Dr. Marian Bisanz-Prakken, curator at the Albertina Museum, Vienna and continues through September 23, 2012.

Banner image: Detail from Gustav Kilmt's Fish Blood, 1989; India ink and pen on brown paper; Unframed 40 x 40.3 cm (15 3/4 x 15 7/8 in.); Private collection, courtesy Galerie St. Etienne, New York