Gustav Klimt’s 150th Birthday and Legacy

A plate from Gustav Klimt’s Das Werk von Gustav Klimt, Vienna, 1918.

The prescient motto that has graced the front of the Secession Building in Vienna since 1897–“To every age its art, to art its freedom”–speaks to the legacy of Gustav Klimt and his fellow artists who defined Viennese Modernism in fin de siècle Europe.

This past July 14th marked the 150th anniversary of Klimt’s birth and Swann is pleased to present several scarce books by and about him and his contemporary pioneers in a year full of events and exhibitions celebrating them.

Klimt’s sensuous women and nudes were one of his major subjects. Not confined to quiet, domestic roles, his depictions of these ladies reveal the emergence of an increasingly self-confident middle class. You may have noticed one of his most famous works, the Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902) on the front of our newsletter, the Trumpet, and on the cover of the catalogue for the October 11th sale. It is one of the first of his female portraits that puts the focus on ornamentation and marked a departure for the artist and would become one of his most recognizable styles. In the same portfolio is the first collotype plate of his great portrait, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, whose original canvas sold for $135 million to Ronald Lauder for his Neue Galerie and remains one of the most expensive paintings in the world.

A plate from Die Hetaerengespraeche

The erotic pencil and ink studies in preparation for his two celebrated paintings “Water Serpents” (1904-07) were used to illustrated the famous text by Lucien of Samosata, Die Hetaerengespraeche, 1907 in the original binding created by his friend, designer Josef Hoffmann at the Wiener Werkstätte.

Klimt’s influence on the voracious creative output of the new designers and artists of the Werkstätte can be seen in this rare copy of the program for the elaborate cabaret, Kabarett Fledermaus.