Gustav Klimt in the National Peleș Museum

Peleș Castle is the only warehouse in Romania of the artistic creation signed by Gustav Klimt, within the Künstlerkompagnie workshop. The works carried out between 1883 and 1886 on the command of King Carol I by the young Viennese painters Gustav Klimt, Ernst Klimt and Franz Matsch represent outstanding patrimonial values of the National Peleș Museum.

Peles Castle, view from the outsidePeleș National Museum

The works of Gustav Klimt are mentioned for the first time in two separate monographs on Castle Peleș published in 1893 by Jakob von Falke and Léo Bachelin respectively. Falke and Bachelin state that Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch painted ten portraits of the ancestors of King Carol I, mentioning four of their names. They mention the decoration of the Theatre Room (Gustav Klimt, Franz Matsch) and the ceiling of the Grand Salon, painted by the Klimt brothers.

Portrait of Isabella dʼEste (1884) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

Since the 1960s, Gustav Klimt has been regarded as the most important representative of the Secession movement. Austrian researchers have concentrated mainly on the Secession period of the artist’s work and less on his early period, when he was active within the Künstlerkompagnie (1879-1892). In studies on Klimt published in the 1960s, a new element appears, connected to the works commissioned for Castle Peleș, namely the copies after the old masters, for example the copy of Titian’s portrait of Isabella d’Este that hangs in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

The copy of Titian’s Portrait of Isabella d’Este has on its verso side an inscription informing us that it was painted by Gustav Klimt. The work was painted in 1885.

Gustav Klimt (08.07.1909) by UnknownAustrian National Library

In her fundamental study of Klimt, Alice Strobl describes the works created by the Künstlerkompanie for Castle Peleș. Since 1990, freedom of movement and access to information has enabled art historians to study Gustav Klimt’s works at Sinaia and to reassess this early stage in career.

In 1879, the year when building work on Castle Peleș resumed in earnest, painters Gustav Klimt, Ernst Klimt and Franz Matsch founded the Künstlerkompagnie studio in Vienna. Four years later, 1883, the year of the inauguration of Castle Peleș, the three artists received an important commission, which came to fruition in the form of a series of works to decorate the summer residence of King Carol I of Romania in Sinaia.

The works may be grouped in three separate categories: the gallery of the ancestors of King Carol I, the copies after the old masters, and the decoration of the Theatre Room.

Portrait of Eitel Friedrich VII, Count of Hohenzollern-Hechingen (1883) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

The Gallery of Ancestors is a programme integral to the symbolic and political functions with which Carol I invested his Sinaia residence. First of all, the Gallery of Ancestors signifies the replanting of ancestral roots in the soil of the adoptive homeland, a phenomenon found at Castle Peleș but not at the Royal Palace in Bucharest. The nine canvases painted by Gustav Klimt and Franz Matsch are in oil and in the lower part of the pictures can be seen the coats of arms of the nobles of Zollern and Hohenzollern and those of their wives, as well as a year.

Portrait of Philip Friedrich Christoph, Count of Hohenzollern (1883) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

In accordance with a cultural policy specific to the nineteenth century and in line with his own taste, King Carol I created his own private gallery. It included a collection of old paintings and a collection of copies. Copies of works by famous artists were commonplace and typical of the nineteenth century, representing a keen interest in artworks and a taste for the old masters. In the absence of the famous originals, which by the second half of the nineteenth century were all housed in prestigious museums or private galleries, copies of the old masters were intended to lend the royal residence an air of splendour.

Peles Castle, interiorPeleș National Museum

As we discover from Franz Matsch, for the library of Queen Elisabeta at Peleș the Künstlerkompagnie designed a decorative ensemble made up of The Poet and Poetry, an allegorical painting by Matsch, and a fifteen-metre frieze by Gustav Klimt. Up until the 1900s, Queen Elisabeta, a writer and patron of the arts, had her own library at Castle Peleș, housed on the first floor. It is to be supposed that in the initial phase, between 1883 and 1884, the Queen intended a monumental decorative ensemble for the room, but the space proved to be too narrow for such a project. Finally, it was decided that the paintings of this programme should decorate not the library, but the ceiling and walls of the Theatre Room.

The Muze Calliope (1884) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

The decoration of the upper walls of the Theatre Room has the title Musen, Masken, Allegorien und Emblemen (Muses, Masks, Allegories and Emblems). The eight panels in oil on thick canvas, using the “Gobelintechnick”, were painted by Gustav Klimt and depict the Muses Thalia, Melpomene, Terpsichore and Calliope. The mythological figures alternate with the insignia of Apollo (the lyre) and Dionysus (the double flute and grotesque masks).

Melpomene (c. 1884) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

Spring (c. 1884) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

Portrait of Friedrich I, Count of Zollern (c. 1884) by Gustav KlimtPeleș National Museum

Taken together, Gustav Klimt’s portraits of the King’s ancestors (Eitel Friedrich VII, Johann Georg, Philipp, Friedrich Christoph) and his copy in the academic manner after Titian (Isabella d’Este) are impressive for their compositional skill, their learned handling of lighting, their chromatic exquisiteness, and, in particular, their ability to suggest the materiality of items of armour and courtly costume.

Although painted sixteen years before the turn of the century, the Muses, Masks, Allegories and Emblems series as a whole looks forward to the Secession movement in a number of its stylistic features: the decorative background elements (floral motifs and ornamental wands framing the compositions) and details of costume. It might be said that these works, form the earliest, still academic stage of Gustav Klimt’s career, but already marked by a modern sensibility, are interesting to analyse given the distance that separates them from his more thoroughly studied mature work.

Gustav Klimt am Attersee (1904) by UnknownAustrian National Library

An analysis of the works created by the Künstlerkompagnie for Castle Peleș reveals Gustav Klimt as the principal artist, both qualitatively and quantitatively, making the future master of the Viennese Secession first among the members of the Künstlerkompagnie studio.

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