Klimt's Painting of 'Josef Lewinsky as Carlos in Clavigo'

By Belvedere

Belvedere, Wien

Josef Lewinsky as Carlos in Clavigo (1895) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The Gesellschaft für Vervielfältigende Kunst (Society for Art Reproduction) commissioned Gustav Klimt to paint a portrait of a well-known actor of the Vienna Hofburgtheater for the publication "Die Theater Wiens" (Vienna's Theaters).

Klimt decided on actor Josef Lewinsky.

Josef Lewinsky as Carlos in Clavigo (1895)Belvedere

Josef Lewinsky (1835–1907) had already made his first appearance at the Hofburgtheater in 1858, and in 1861 he was appointed a Burgtheater actor for life. In Klimt's painting, the then sixty-year-old is playing Carlos in Goethe's drama "Clavigo," one of the outstanding roles of his career.

Josef Lewinsky as Carlos in Clavigo (1895) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Other artists such as Hans Temple, Andreas Groll, and Adolf Hirémy-Hirschl provided illustrations for the aforementioned publication "Die Theater Wiens." All of these were completed as grisailles in a historical style. In contrast, Klimt's contribution is much more modern.

There is almost an impression that Klimt's style of painting, with its overuse of realism, aims to invoke the feeling of a black-and-white photograph. Even the slightly elevated position of the actor in front of a dull and empty background corresponds to that of a typically arranged photo studio.

Lewinsky appears on a darkened stage in a black costume. Only his face and white shirt stand out against the dark background.

Klimt pursues an almost miniaturist style of painting, right down to the almost imperceptible facial features and tiniest clothing details.

Combined with the brightly painted frame bordering the middle of the painting, Lewinsky's portrait almost looks like a photo collage. The frame adjoining the portrait on the left includes organic tendrils in front of a diffuse and spacious surface.

The right frame section bordering Lewinsky's portrait is an allegory of the theater. With the thinnest of brushstrokes, Klimt paints a young lady with a mask in her hand. It appears like a fleeting apparition behind the smoke of an antique incense burner.

Credits: Story

Text: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere / Franz Smola

© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere


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