Get to Know Emilie Flöge

The woman by Klimt's side

Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge (around 1909) by H. BöhlerAustrian National Library

Emilie Flöge (1874–1952) was undoubtedly the most important woman in Gustav Klimt's life. Their initial love affair developed into a close, lifelong friendship. However, Emilie Flöge was also willing to accept all the idiosyncrasies Klimt's stubborn nature entailed. She had to accept, for example, that Klimt would never marry her and, despite their shared relationship, would also have affairs with models with whom he even had children. Specifically, the master artist was known to have three longer-lasting relations with models, resulting in a total of six children.

Gustav Klimt's studio at the Feldmühlgasse 11 (1918) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Emilie's relationship with Klimt, in contrast, did not bear any children. They did not even live together. Emilie shared a house with her sisters, while Klimt lived in a household that included his mother and his unmarried sisters. The two rarely saw each other during the day, as Klimt constantly worked in his studio where he did not welcome any company.

Gustav Klimt (1917) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

Consequently, the two mostly spent time together in the evenings. Emilie Flöge was always by Klimt's side, especially on official occasions and his frequent visits to theatrical and concert performances. Over the years, Emilie Flöge was actually dubbed "Frau Klimt" in Viennese society. She would also inherit Klimt's estate after his unexpected death, alongside his sisters.

Old Man on his Death-Bed (around 1899) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Klimt got to know Emile Flöge, who was 12 years younger than himself, in October 1891 at the latest when his brother Ernst married Emilie's sister Helene. Although the Klimt brothers came from a humble background, the Flöge family belonged to the wealthiest class in Viennese society. The father Hermann Flöge owned a factory that produced pipes made of meerschaum. The portrait painted by Klimt in the late 1890s of an old man on his deathbed was likely Emilie's father, Hermann Flöge.

Ernst Klimt (1890) by Carl SchusterBelvedere

When Gustav Klimt's brother Ernst died unexpectedly in December 1892, Gustav became the guardian of Ernst's daughter, Helene Luise. This also strengthened family ties with the Flöge family.

Emilie Flöge (1910) by Madame d'Ora, AtelierAustrian National Library

From 1892 Emilie ran a tailor shop with sisters Pauline and Helene. In 1904 the three sisters opened the fashion salon Schwestern Flöge on the lively Mariahilferstraße in Vienna's 6th district. Josef Hoffmann and Koloman Moser, Klimt's close associates from the Vienna Secession, designed the full interior of the fashion salon. This was completed in 1903 by the Wiener Werkstätte design studio founded by Hoffmann and Moser. The result was an interior with one of the most consistent radical puristic designs of the early years of the Wiener Werkstätte.

Emilie Flöge in a Reform Dress (1909) by Madame d'Ora, AtelierAustrian National Library

The Flöge fashion salon was one of the leading fashion houses in Vienna for many years. During its best years the business employed around 80 assistants, dressmakers, and seamstresses. Emilie Flöge was one of the fashion designers who spread the so-called reform style, among other things.

Emilie Flöge in a Reform Dress (1909) by Madame d'Ora, AtelierAustrian National Library

This style was characterized by a radical refusal of the corset—tight lacing around the waist—that was then obligatory. The latest international fashion creations also found their way into the salon's collections. To find these, Emilie Flöge regularly visited leading fashion shows in Paris and London.

Emilie Flöge in a dress designed by Gustav Klimt (1909) by Madame d'Ora, AtelierAustrian National Library

Emilie ran a very progressive marketing strategy and often presented her latest collections herself when she was younger, as demonstrated in numerous impressive photos.

Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902) by Gustav KlimtWien Museum

In 1902, Klimt painted a portrait of his partner in which her full figure is shown. Emilie wears a remarkably tight-fitting dress with no waist, indicative of the reform style that she herself propagated.

The fabric has an eccentric pattern. Its wavy and oval shapes are reminiscent of fish scales, an association further strengthened by the predominantly blue-green coloration of the dress.

Klimt designed individual decorative pieces out of genuine silver and gold leaf, a technique he would use more intensively shortly thereafter.

The elongated proportions of the figure, also expressed by the delicate and narrow shape of the hand, make it appear as if the master artist has turned Emilie into a slim fish-like being.

In fact, Klimt was fascinated by underwater themes during these years, and expressed these in works with titles such as "Water Serpents" or "Mermaids."

Emilie herself was not very enthusiastic about this interpretation of her portrait. It is probably due to this lack of sympathy for this work that Klimt did not delay in selling the painting for profit a few years later to a public institution.

Emilie Flöge, Gustav Klimt and Eleonore Zimpel in Litzlberg at the Attersee (1905)Belvedere

Klimt and Emilie's relationship became especially intense whenever they went on vacation together. They spent a few weeks each summer in the countryside, most often on the Attersee in Upper Austria. However, they were not alone: they were always in the company of the Flöge family.

Gustav Klimt and Pauline Flöge during a bootstour on the Attersee (1905) by Emma BacherAustrian National Library

This included Emilie's sisters Pauline and Helene, Helene's daughter Helene Luise, and their mother Barbara Flöge.

Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge (around 1909) by H. BöhlerAustrian National Library

In many pictures Emilie also wears the clothes she designed on the Attersee. Some of these photos may have been taken especially for marketing purposes. For instance, in 1906/07 the art magazine "Kunst and Kunsthandwerk" (Arts and Crafts), which was very popular in Germany at the time, published a series of photos in which Emilie presented her latest fashion collection in the garden of the rented Villa Oleander. The photographer in this case may even have been Klimt himself.

Palais Stoclet, dining roomAustrian National Library

In the summer of 1910 Klimt worked in the Villa Oleander garden on the designs for the mosaic frieze. This had been commissioned by couple Adolphe and Suzanne Stoclet for the dining room of their palace in Brussels, recently built by Josef Hoffmann. The commission had already been awarded to Klimt a few years earlier. However, he only now began to work on the draft sketches on large boxes.

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

The staff at the Wiener Werkstätte who had to convert the frieze into a mosaic using marble, ceramics, glass and painted enamel—a highly complex process—kept pushing for the designs to be delivered. As a result, Klimt had no choice but to work on it during his vacation on the Attersee.

Emilie Flöge's niece Helene later recalled that Emilie had also assisted Klimt in producing the designs, which included covering the already drawn sections with gold leaf.

Credits: Story

Text: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere / Franz Smola

© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere

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