Klimt's Reclining Woman (Study for the Beethoven Frieze)

The story of one drawing's journey to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Reclining Woman (Study for the Beethoven Frieze) Reclining Woman (Study for the Beethoven Frieze) (about 1901–02) by Gustav KlimtMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

A historical journey

Though Gustav Klimt's Reclining Woman is one of many preparatory drawings he did for the Beethoven Frieze, the possible path this drawing took on its way into the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's collection is a fascinating story of its own and sheds light on art history and global events of the 20th century.

Klimt painted the Beethoven Frieze for the 14th exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1902. In preparation for the 7 x 112 foot work on the theme of humanity’s longing and search for joy, he created numerous studies. Some of these drawings, like the sheet in the MFA’s collection, do not directly relate to a specific figure in the final frieze. Instead, they reveal Klimt’s process of working through ideas, types, poses, or some degree of all those aspects of his figuration. Klimt employed this stylized facial type — and the cocked wrist hand gesture — for many ethereal female figures in the Frieze. The sketched figure stretches across the paper, hovering in midair with no architecture or furniture for support. Alone on the page, does her body twist and wrist flex involuntarily in her slumber or is she borne aloft in the realm of ideas, subject to less earthly concerns?

In 1903, the art collector Carl Reininghaus acquired Klimt's Beethoven Frieze, as plans for its destruction were underway at the end of the Secession exhibition. To thank him for saving the frieze, Klimt gave Reininghaus over one hundred preparatory sketches including this drawing. The "R" inscribed in the lower left corner indicates its ownership by Reininghaus.

The industrialist August Lederer and his wife Serena Pulitzer Lederer were among Klimt's most important patrons and owned a large collection of his work (note his initials here). When they purchased the Frieze from Reininghaus in 1915, they acquired many of the preparatory drawings.

Following the annexation of Austria by the Third Reich in 1938, Serena Lederer fled to Hungary and was dispossessed of her art collection by the Nazi authorities. The collection was "safeguarded" and prevented from leaving the country.

Serena Lederer (after 1903) by Martin GerlachAustrian National Library

Among the works of art listed on a November 20, 1940 Nazi-generated inventory of the collection at the Lederer home (pictured here) at Bartensteingasse 8, Vienna, are hundreds of non-itemized drawings by Gustav Klimt, which may well include the MFA's study. Image courtesy Austrian National Library

Reclining Woman (Study for the Beethoven Frieze) Registration photograph of Reclining Woman (1964) by Gustav KlimtMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

In the 1940s, parts of the Lederer collection were removed to the abandoned salt mines at Alt Aussee for storage, where they were later recovered by Allied forces and restituted to Erich Lederer.

It is possible that this drawing was among these items. It was certainly with Lederer in 1963, when he sold it. Note the "Recommended for Purchase" label in the corner, when the work first came into the MFA's collection.

Reclining Woman (Study for the Beethoven Frieze) Installation view of Reclining Woman (2006) by Gustav KlimtMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston

Reclining Woman has continued to hold an important place in the MFA's collection through the years, as a strong example of Klimt's process and treatment of the human figure. Here it is displayed prominently as part of the 2006 exhibition, Degas to Picasso: Modern Masters.

Credits: Story

All Photographs © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, except where noted.

Text by Katie Hanson, Assistant Curator, Paintings, Art of Europe; and Victoria Reed, Monica S. Sadler Curator for Provenance.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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