A new kind of portrait: Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein

By Belvedere

A story by Neue Pinakothek, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Portrait of Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein (1905) by Gustav KlimtOriginal Source: Neue Pinakothek

The Portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein is one of Gustav Klimt's great female portraits in which he portrayed ladies from Viennese society, including Friederike Maria Beer, Serena Lederer, and last but not least, Adele Bloch-Bauer. The dramatic story behind Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907) was filmed in 2015 under the title Woman in Gold.

Mrs Thomas Hibbert (1786) by Thomas GainsboroughOriginal Source: Neue Pinakothek

As part of the Neue Pinakothek collection, the portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein marks how the portrait genre was radically transformed from the lordly portraits of Thomas Lawrence and Thomas Gainsborough during the late 18th century, to the depictions of bourgeois self-consciousness by Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, right through to the "highly stylized glorification of modern society around 1900," as Ernst Ruhmer wrote in reference to this painting.

Margarethe Wittgenstein (1903) by Ferdinand SchmutzerAustrian National Library

In fact, one has to wonder whether the portrait of the well-educated, "unconventional" sister of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and pianist Paul Wittgenstein did justice to her personality.

Portrait of Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein (1905) by Gustav KlimtOriginal Source: Neue Pinakothek

The young woman is portrayed in portrait format, dominated by the bright colors of the lavishly painted moire dress.

The fine pattern and the lightness of the fabric are illustrated by only a very thin layer of color…

…which allows the viewer to see the preliminary sketch and background painting in many places.

The liveliness of the flowing fabric contrasts with the strict geometry of the background…

…which is so flat that it removes any depth from the painting. The portrayed person is so absorbed in an abstract ornament that it becomes part of the larger image, which is more a statement of how modernism sees itself aesthetically than a realistic snapshot of life. 

Credits: Story

This story is a contribution by the Neue Pinakothek for the digital Gustav Klimt retrospective on Google Arts & Culture.
Concept & Text: Joachim Kaak
© Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek
Visit the Website of the Neue Pinakothek

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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