Gustav Klimt (1862 Baumgarten - 1918 Vienne)
Black pencil on paper ; 56 x 37.3 cm
Gustav Nebehay (1919) ; New York, private collection ; Vienna, Bei der Albertina gallery ; Vienna, private collection ; Paris, Eric Coatalem gallery ; Paris, Le Polyptyque collection ; Paris, private collection.
Gustav Klimt, dessins (Paris, galerie Eric Coatalem, 2008).
Alice Strobl, Catalogue raisonné des dessins, vol. IV, 1984, n° 3660.
According to Alice Strobl, this drawing is a preparatory study for one of Gustav Klimt's most important paintings, die Jungfrau (The Virgin), completed in 1913 (Prague, National Gallery). However, the very confident and swirling line, rare in the painter's graphic work, can hardly be found in any of his drawings around 1908-1909.
Klimt met Egon Schiele in 1907. In the following years, he abandoned the aesthetics of the Secession and gave up using gold in his paintings, devoting himself mainly to landscapes and a few large allegorical paintings. But if he influenced Schiele, who was not yet twenty years old, the opposite is also true : Schiele's spirit seems to guide Klimt's pencil here.
We can hypothesize that Klimt seized the opportunity to sketch a friend or a companion – and there were many of them – in an attitude of abandonment evoking either sex or death, sources of inspiration for his painting and more generally for the culture of Vienna at the end of the 19th century – if we admit that the 19th century ended in 1914. He "transformed" her a few years later into the nude woman at the bottom of the group, who can hardly be recognized except by the tilt of her head.
The art historian Werner Hofmann writes nicely, in the catalog of the exhibition Vienna 1880-1938, L’Apocalypse joyeuse (The Joyful Apocalypse - Centre Pompidou, Musée National d'Art Moderne, 1986), that Klimt "only sees in the erotic instinct the instigator of the most daring arabesques which the human body, alone or in couple, is capable". More easily in the drawing than in the painting, where the line is, somehow, channeled by the overall conception, fluid rather than gushing.
From a moment when the model's willingness meets the artist's availability, a memorable drawing emerges in a few strokes – when many others by Klimt, which must be described as hesitant and almost evasive, are hardly so. We can think, and this is no a small compliment, of Rembrandt, around 1635, drawing Two Studies of a Woman Asleep (Saskia?) (New York, Morgan Library).