Gustav Klimt and the Palais Stoclet

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels

Da MAK – Museum of Applied Arts

MAK – Austrian Museum for Applied Arts / Contemporary Art

View of the Dining Room at Palais Stoclet (1914)MAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Klimt and the Palais Stoclet

Palais Stoclet (also known as the Stoclet House) in Brussels was planned between 1905 and 1911 by Josef Hoffmann in the style of the Vienna Secession and decorated by him and a great number of Wiener Werkstätte members, as well as others from that circle, in keeping with the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Not only the building and the interior design, but in fact the entire decorating scheme is permeated by a synthesis of the three arts of painting, sculpture, and architecture, wholly in keeping with the spirit of the Wiener Werkstätte. For the interior decorating, the best-known artists of the period around 1900 were called upon—including Carl Otto Czeschka, Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill, and Ludwig Heinrich Jungnickel.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

The highlight of his mature output

The commission to do the dining room walls went to Gustav Klimt. Klimt’s years of work on this project produced nine working drawings at a scale of 1:1 that were then realized as mosaics. This work is among the few that Klimt did at a monumental scale, and with its recourse to Egyptian, Byzantine, and Japanese models, it represents the highlight of his artistically mature output.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 4, Part of the tree of life (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

The central motif of the entire frieze is the sprawling Tree of Life, which spreads from the center across the whole long side of the dining room of the Stoclet House.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 3, Part of the tree of life (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Inspired by the Byzantine canon of form, the radical stylization of the tree with its far-reaching volute-like branches is filled with symbolism.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 5, Part of the tree of life (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

The golden volutes bear Horus Falcons and Eyes of Horus as well as strongly stylized flowers and leaves and were most likely inspired by the Stoclets’ ancient Egyptian, antique, Byzantine collection.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 6, Rosebush (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

For these friezes’ execution by the Wiener Werkstätte and the Wiener Mosaikwerkstätte [Vienna Mosaic Workshop] Forstner, Klimt handwrote on the drawings instructions according to which only the finest materials—such as enamel, mother-of-pearl, and gold leaf—were to be used.

Klimt's additional handwritten explanations for the production of the frieze

Klimt's additional handwritten explanations for the production of the frieze

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 7, Part of the tree of life (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

For the shape of the volute-like branches of a tree of life and of the highly abstracted flower meadow, Klimt directly borrowed the still existing garden of the Villa Oleander at Lake Atter.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 2, Expectation (Dancer) (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Expectation, also called “The Dancer“, forms the conclusion of the Tree of Life, just like Fulfillment on the opposite side. Klimt was strongly influenced by the protagonists of Modern Dance, such as Isadora Duncan, Loïe Fuller, or her Viennese counterpart Grete Wiesenthal. He also obviously borrows inspiration from Egyptian portrayals: apart from her upper body, which is shown en face, the dancer is seen from the side.

“The Dancer's“ hand posture emphasizes the decorative headdress which, just as her bracelet, resembles designs of the Wiener Werkstätte.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 8, Fulfillment (Lovers) (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

The compositional addition to the depiction of Expectation is Fulfillment, also called “Lovers”, on the opposite side: a man in a red kimono standing with his legs apart, whose back is facing towards us, and a woman in a green dress covered with flowers in an intimate embrace.

One can assume that the lovers are Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge. Klimt wrote Flöge in 1914 after his first inspection of the finished mosaic in Brussels that he was “most intensely” reminded of the troubles, pleasures, and worries during the creation of the work drawings in the Villa Oleander in Kammerl at Lake Atter.

Nine Cartoons for the Execution of a Frieze for the Dining Room of Stoclet House in Brussels: Part 9, Knight (1910–1911) di Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

On the narrow side of the dining room “The Knight” sits enthroned above a square and an area decorated with acanthus. He is the guardian between the depictions of Expectation and Fulfillment. The landlord Adolphe Stoclet, the patriarch of the family, is said to have taken his seat directly below the “Knight.”

The entire composition is composed of squares, triangles, and circles and therefore almost appears mathematically designed. With its extreme level of abstraction the “Knight” is unique in Klimt’s work.

For a long time, art history only referred to this piece of work as an “abstract composition” as no reference to a figural character was discovered in the figure. Only the late finding of a postcard in which Klimt told Emilie Flöge about the “Knight” clarified the identity of the “abstract composition.”

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MAK – Austrian Museum for Applied Arts / Contemporary Art

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