Gustav Klimt's Drawings in the Leopold Museum Collection

Leopold Museum

Fragments from the Beethoven Frieze after Gustav Klimt, plate 44, The work of Gustav Klimt (1918) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

Embracing standing nude pair: Study for "This Kiss to the Whole World" in the Beethoven Frieze

Standing Naked Couple, Embracing. Study for “This Kiss to the Whole World” from the Beethoven Frieze (1901) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

This drawing of a standing nude pair of lovers is a preliminary study directly relating to the famous Beethoven Frieze. This was a wall frieze created by Klimt for the Beethoven exhibition in the Vienna Secession, which took place from April to July 1902.

Fragments from the Beethoven Frieze after Gustav Klimt, plate 44, The work of Gustav Klimt (1918) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

The drawing's motif is featured in the last scene of the Beethoven Frieze which shows a closely entwined couple. The pair illustrates "Kiss to the Whole World" which was set to music by Ludwig van Beethoven in the final chorus of his Ninth Symphony after Schiller's Ode to Joy.

The pencil study is very similar to the painted version in the wall frieze. There is only one discernible difference: in the drawing, the woman puts just one arm around the man's neck. In the frieze, however, she wraps both her arms around him.

Standing Naked Couple, Embracing. Study for “This Kiss to the Whole World” from the Beethoven Frieze (1901) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

In arranging the pair of lovers, Klimt chooses a perspective that shows the man's full, athletically built, naked back, while the also naked woman is largely hidden by the man. Klimt outlines the contours of the two figures with a few confident lines.

Two Naked Women Embracing (Ver Sacrum) (1903) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Two female nudes enveloping one another: Study for "Water Serpents I"

This drawing is one of the earliest drafts for Klimt's painting "Girlfriends (Water Serpents I)," a small-format work on parchment. The master had worked on it since 1904 and finally finished it in 1907.

Friends (Water serpants) (1904/1907) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The picture "Girlfriends (Water Serpents I)" shows two slim female figures in a close embrace. They are fantastical aquatic beings, referred to by Klimt as "mermaids" or "water serpents," that glide in the water with floating, flowing movements and are surrounded by aquatic plants and fish.

Two Naked Women Embracing (Ver Sacrum) (1903) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Over 20 preliminary sketches for this painting are known. The current study is notably similar to the completed picture. One striking feature is the raised right arm, bent at right angles, of the lying figure shown from the front.

Out of the many known preliminary sketches for the picture "Girlfriends (Water Serpents I)," the current study also stands out through its use of blue colored pencil. Klimt mostly used black pencil in his drawings, and less often blue and red colored pencils.

Naked Girl with Ruff, lying (1905/06) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Recumbent female nude facing right with ballentrée: Study for "Water Serpents II," 2nd version

The drawing is captivating, being completed to high levels of perfection and with the portrait-like features of its model. In fact, the face of the lady lying down may be associated with a model who appears several times in Klimt's drawings known as the "Engländerin" (English-woman).

We know from Erich Lederer, a friend of the painter and a collector of his works, that a certain female model, whose name is regrettably unknown and who is clearly recognizable in drawings on account of her distinctive upturned nose, was referred to as the "Engländerin".

These drawn portraits and nude depictions demonstrate Klimt's prowess in the field of drawing and distinguish him as a world-renowned draftsman. In the current drawing, Klimt creates a particularly sensual and erotic effect through his meticulous drawing technique.

Klimt primarily used pencil in this drawing. He also only partially used a red pencil, for example for the lips of the person portrayed. The woman wears a distinctive ruff as a special accessory. It is a long, ruched stole, also called a ballentrée.

Naked Girl Standing, with Right Hand to Breast (1906) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Standing female nude facing right, her right hand on her chest

This sheet belongs to a "marching and standing" group that Klimt recorded particularly often in drawings in 1906 and 1907. They show a distinctive type of female body that is youthfully slim and excessively tall.

These nudes have remarkably strict, upright, and straight postures. On the current sheet, the upward movement of her body is further accentuated by her uplifted head.

The use of red pencil is relatively frequent in this aforementioned "standing" group, as well as the concentration of lines along the contours of the figures. Such repetitions of contour lines have a particular effect on the plasticity of the body shapes.

This "standing" group cannot be associated with any particular painting or motif, however. Nevertheless, elongated female figures frequently appear in Klimt's work, for example, in the exotic and Egyptian-looking figures in the famous Stoclet Frieze of the Palais Stoclet in Brussels.

Study for Judith II (c. 1908) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Female dancer in flamenco costume, lower left: Repetition of motif: Study for "Judith II (Salome)"

With rushed brushstrokes, Klimt captures a flamenco dancer who marches toward the viewer in her dance. The work may have been created during Klimt's visit to Spain in October 1909 when he visited Madrid and Toledo following his trip to Paris.

In fact, the motif appears to have spontaneously and quickly come into being. However, Klimt clearly wanted to study the dancer motif with precision. To this end, he shows the flamenco dancer again on the same sheet in the lower-left corner, this time at smaller scale and completed in pencil.

The figure of the dancer returns in Klimt's 1909 painting "Judith II (Salome)" (Venice, Musei Civici). In this picture, the dancer now appears as a demonic femme fatale, as if frozen in her dance movements. The dance rhythms are reflected here through the rich decoration of lines.

The study of the flamenco dancer is one of Klimt's rare watercolor pictures. Several thousand drawings by the master have survived, yet only a few were also colored with watercolor. In this respect, this sheet is an absolute rarity.

Seated Figure with Gathered up Skirt (1910) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Seated female semi-nude in patterned dress, her head resting on her right knee

A special feature of Klimt's art is that its erotic depiction knows no limits in terms of societal taboos. One noteworthy example is the current drawing, which shows a model with no known name whose dress is lifted above her hips.

Klimt sometimes showed such drawings at exhibitions. This often resulted in protests from the conservatively minded public. Klimt was deeply upset by such reactions and increasingly avoided presenting such works to the public.

This sheet stands out through the precision of its drawing, as Klimt carefully depicts the figure of the woman. With red and blue pencil, he also draws a magnificent pattern on her dress. As seen so often before, Klimt chooses a tightly knit layer of geometric and oval shapes.

Death and Life (1910/15) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

The unusual seated posture of the woman portrayed, with her leg supported, is reminiscent of the pose of one of the female figures in the Life group in Klimt's monumental allegory "Death and Life." He worked on this painting around the same time this drawing was created.

Seated Figure with Gathered up Skirt (1910) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

However, the current drawing should by no means be interpreted as just a study. The detailed stroke execution and the rich use of colors with added crayons, as well as the balanced composition, make this erotic drawing a picturesque and autonomous work of art.

Seated Lady with Ornamented Cape in Profile from the Left (1910) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Seated lady with decorated cloak in profile facing left

The name of the lady portrayed here by Klimt is not known. It wasn't even known when he was capturing her in this portrait. The high degree of elaboration in the drawing on this sheet is impressive. Perhaps Klimt was thinking about using it for a future portrait, but this never came about.

Klimt precisely depicts the shape of the elegant material surrounding her upper body. The tight-fitting fabric reaches the tip of her chin and, together with her head, creates a towering vertical shape. The woman's crossed hands are also hinted at.

The detailed pattern covering the cloak of the model is particularly remarkable. It may be floral decoration, suggested by Klimt through quick strokes of the pencil. He even successfully accents the pattern with colors through dotted lines of red and white pencil.

Klimt also precisely reproduces the striking profile of the lady. Even visible around the eyes is Klimt's occasional practice of placing dotted contours over the finished pencil drawing to accentuate these existing lines further.

The outlines of the figure are accentuated by flurries of pencil strokes. As a result, the figure contrasts against the background and appears especially vivid. Through these few drawing methods, Klimt is able to create an extremely lively portrait of this person.

Reclining Semi-Nude (Masturbating) (1912/13) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Reclining semi-nude female facing right with her legs pulled up, masturbating

This revealing portrayal of a woman lying down, using her hand for self-love with great enjoyment, is one of the outstanding erotic drawings for which Klimt was famous and notorious among his contemporaries. Many praised their beauty, while many found these works obscene.

The sheet has a particularly high degree of autonomous artistic design. The use of red pencil, which was not uncommon in Klimt's later creative period, however, is striking.

Subtly and with finesse, Klimt varies the strength of his stroke. He changes between delicate, often barely visible contours, predominantly depicting the naked parts of the body, and much stronger strokes that characterize the face and intricately patterned draperies.

With supreme and controlled strokes, Klimt is successful in making this nude appear lively and three-dimensional. He also devotes much time to reproducing the face. Carefully guided lines detail the facial features of this clearly very attractive model.

Today, Klimt is often criticized for degrading woman to objects through these erotic portrayals in particular and not granting them autonomy. In fact, Klimt preferred to take on the role of voyeur, with the models not making direct eye contact.

Semi-Nude leaning forward (Preparatory Work for the Painting Leda) (1913/14) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Female semi-nude facing right in a kneeling, crouching position: Study for "Leda"

The drawing shows a study for Klimt's 1917 painting "Leda." The painting is a scene from Greek mythology—namely, the erotic encounter between Leda and the god Zeus who turned into a swan during the act of love-making. This theme has been frequently portrayed throughout art history, but Leda has always been posed in very different ways by artists. Klimt's Leda is depicted in a kneeling, crouching position. In the painting, the swan approaches her from behind.

The swan remains missing from this drawing. Leda's position, however, is very similar to the painted version. The long interval between the 1913/14 study and the 1917 completed work was not unusual for Klimt: he often worked on the same topic for a long time.

In the drawing, Klimt worked with special care to elaborate the wavy and gentle outline of Leda's back. He accentuated it with a dashed contour, achieving an increased, three-dimensional effect.

Klimt contrasts the emptiness and smoothness of the naked body with the tangle of lines depicting the ornamental drapery bundled around her neck. The fabric partially covers Leda's face, framed by her whirling hair.

Two Nudes, the Left One with Raised Arms (1916/17) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Two standing female nudes, the left one with raised arms: Study for "Girlfriends II"

The female nudes presented in this study are distinguished through their notably stretched proportions and the narrowness of their waists and hips. A strong upward movement can be determined in the two standing figures.

The friends after Gustav Klimt, plate 1, Gustav Klimt - The gleanings (1931) by Gustav KlimtMAK – Museum of Applied Arts

This drawing is related to Klimt's numerous designs for the 1916/17 painting "Girlfriends II." The standing nude on the left of the sheet—in her almost frontal pose—is similar to the nude girlfriend on the left in the finished painting.

Two Nudes, the Left One with Raised Arms (1916/17) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

This remarkable stretching and twisting of the nude figures may be associated with Klimt's affinity with the ecstatic and lambent figures of El Greco. Klimt was enthralled by the pictures of the Spanish painter during his visit to Toledo in October 1909.

This drawing has a study-like character. It seems as if the two nudes have been set on the page at random, as if Klimt had only captured one model but from different perspectives. The nervous, often interrupted strokes are characteristic of Klimt's later drawing style.

Dancing Woman with Cape (1917/18) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

Reclining female nude with outstretched arms: Study for "The Bride"

This sheet is one of the over 100 studies known today for the 1917/18 painting "The Bride," which Klimt was never able to finish owing to his unexpected death. The majority of these studies show female nudes and semi-nudes asleep or in a trance.

The Bride (unfinished) (1917/18) by Gustav KlimtKlimt Foundation

Most of the studies for the painting "The Bride" are of the central figure of the picture: a young woman lying down with her eyes closed. The current picture would also include a figure lying down as well, as Klimt looks down at her from above as in many similar studies.

Dancing Woman with Cape (1917/18) by Gustav KlimtLeopold Museum

The imbalanced hip movement, closed eyes, and bundled drapery highlight the ecstatic emotion Klimt wanted the model to express.

Noteworthy are the nervous and often interrupted pencil strokes which were generally characteristic of Klimt's later drawing style. This style no longer corresponds to the elegant lines of Art Nouveau but already relates to the spontaneous, violent language of Expressionism.

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