Gustav Klimt's "Portrait of Friedericke Maria Beer" (1916)

By Tel Aviv Museum of Art

Portrait of Friedericke Maria Beer (1916) by Gustav KlimtTel Aviv Museum of Art

This portrait, one of the masterpieces of Gustav Klimt's later years, represents a unique synthesis between 2 approaches: ornamentation and realism. At the turn of the 20th century, Klimt became one of the foremost exponents of the Art Nouveau in Vienna.

Friederike Maria Beer, a native of Vienna (1891-1980), was a society member who was involved in the art world of the time, and was the subject of multiple commissioned portraits during the mid-1910s, including Egon Schiele.

Standing Woman (Study for the portrait "Friederike Maria Beer") (1915-1916) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

"Klimt made me try on Chinese and Japanese robes of which he had a large collection. When I told him that I had a dress made out of hand-blocked Wiener Werkstätte silk that I called my ‘Klimt dress,' he asked me to bring it and was enthusiastic and decided to paint me in it."

Portrait of Friedericke Maria Beer (1916) by Gustav KlimtTel Aviv Museum of Art

The fashionable dress was designed by Eduard Josef Wisgrill; the silk pattern, known as "Marina," was created by Dagobert Peche, one of the best-known designers of his time.

In 1964, Beer donated the dress to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

"I also asked permission [from Klimt] to put my coat on as I would like to wear it in public, if had I more courage . . . with its beautiful Wiener Werkstätte lining out and the fur inside."

In order to maintain a tonal unity and soften color contrasts, Klimt painted the fur a bluish-grey color, rather than its original white.

Wien 13, Feldmühlgasse 11 (1918) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

In the background, whose dominance comes close to making it into an additional theme, Klimt united motifs drawn from items he collected and kept in his studio:

such as a 17th-century Chinese vase and various decorative dishes, as well as East-Asian paintings, prints, and textiles with vibrant designs.

Portrait of Friedericke Maria Beer (1916) by Gustav KlimtTel Aviv Museum of Art

In this dynamic compositional area, one can identify Chinese fighters...

...a horse...

...a bearded man with the painted face of a Chinese opera actor...

...masks, and decorative, abstract elements.

The scenes of figures fighting on horseback are a clear reference to the First World War.

These and additional components all blend into a single flat unit, an overall pattern in which only Beer's voluminous face stands out, which is typical for Klimt.

Credits: All media
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