Klimt's Drawings for and in Connection with "Water Serpents II"

Albertina Museum

Gustav Klimt (1917) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

In 1904, Klimt's practice of drawing underwent significant changes. In the context of the subject of water serpents, Eros as a mysterious core of the themes around life was at the center of his tireless study of the female model. Subsequently, Klimt repeatedly tried to capture the essence of a faraway mood or erotic ecstasy and subject it to formal discipline.

Reclining Woman (Study for "Water Snakes II", first version) (1904) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Some of the first examples of this type are the 1904 studies of outstretched models. In these studies, the artist dealt with the taboo of lesbian love and auto-eroticism for the first time.

One notable example is the study for the earliest version of Water Serpents II, which would be repainted a few years later.

Water Snakes after Gustav Klimt, plate 39, The work of Gustav Klimt (1918) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Two Studies of a Reclining Draped Figure (Studies for "Longing for Happiness" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The starting point for the motif of the horizontally lying figure were the studies for the floating women of The Longing for Happiness in the Beethoven Frieze. However, Klimt renounced the sweeping line style of these works, as well as the media of wrapping paper and black chalk, in the studies for Water Serpents II.

Reclining Woman (Study for "Water Snakes II", first version) (1904) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

New for Klimt was the metallic sharpness of his pencil lines, which—combined with the shimmer of the Japanese paper—appear to harmonize with the materiality and esthetics of his Golden Style paintings.

With great meticulousness, Klimt differentiates between the linear structures of the crimped fabrics and hair.

The interplay of the subtly overlapping, strongly outlined forms is particularly pronounced around the bare midsection with a partially covered and erotically active hand.

Through sensitive lines, Klimt characterizes the mysterious expression of her face turned toward the observer.

Despite her outward passivity, the figure stretched out in parallel to the picture plane appears to be part of a horizontal continuum. The outline of the fabric under-layer covering her body appears like a wave.

The geometry of the right-angled cushion shapes arranged at the top of the picture is integral in perfectly balancing the arrangement of the space.

The well-calculated position of the signature is characteristic for Klimt.

Woman Reclining with Right Leg Raised (1904) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The study of a reclining masturbating model, who raises her right leg in the air, depicts an extreme physical pose. The focus of the dialog between the sharply outlined, radically overlapping shapes is—typically for Klimt—the erotically active hand.

The sheet was used as one of a total of 15 illustrations by Klimt of the exclusive, specifically erotic publication "Hetärengespräche" (Dialogues of the Courtesans), translated from greek to german by Franz Blei, Leipzig, in 1907.

Water Snakes after Gustav Klimt, plate 39, The work of Gustav Klimt (1918) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

For the final version of the painting Water Serpents II, created in 1907, Klimt produced several more studies in 1905–06.

Reclining Woman (Study for "Water Snakes II", first version) (1904) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The superimposed nudes of the study drawn in red anticipate the multiple figures of the painting.

Klimt focused on the faraway facial expressions of both women. He allows their heads and hair to grow almost in unison.

Despite its closeness to the painting, the drawing presents itself as a fully self-contained, autonomous work.

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Albertina Vienna

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