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Style: Symbolism

Topic: Nudes

Date: 1889

Museum: The Österreichische Galerie Belvedere (Vienna, Austria)

Here we observe in miniature two elements that set the course for the rest of Klimt’s career. The judicious use of gold leaf in his paintings led to the increasingly flattened, abstracted and decorative “Golden Style.” Secondly, the depiction of the femme fatale, a stock character in Symbolist art and an important motif for the artist. The “dangerous” woman—Klimt by all reports was a great womanizer—was depicted by him and other artists of the day in the guises of the biblical and mythological figures Judith, Salome and the Sphinx, among others. On view here is a terrific blue pencil study for his 1909 painting known alternatively as Judith II or Salome, either way, she is fresh from her lover’s decapitation. During the “feminized” late 19th century when the representation of the woman trumped all, varying from the glamorous actresses and calendar girls of Alphonse Mucha and the hothouse women in black and white of Aubrey Beardsley to the mysterious femmes fatales of Fernand Khnopff, Jan Toorop, Ferdinand Hodler and Franz von Stuck.

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