Klimt's Studies for the Beethoven Frieze

Albertina Museum

None of the groups of studies Klimt created in connection with his paintings are so homogeneous and harmonically self-contained as the outstanding complex of drawings for the Beethoven Frieze

The left side hall with the Beethoven frieze by Gustav Klimt during the 14th exhibition of the Vienna Secession (1902) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

The outstanding studies for the Beethoven Frieze show a particular closeness to the main work, which is inseparable from the Secession's Beethoven Exhibition that took place in 1902. A total of 21 artists momentarily created an ideal modern Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art). At the center of the temple-like interior by Josef Hoffmann is the figure of Beethoven by Max Klinger, which glorifies the composer as the redeemer of humanity. The exhibition pieces are therefore struggle and overcoming, longing and redemption.

Klimt also designed his Beethoven Frieze in this spirit. The main elements of this painted allegory spread over three walls are "The Longing for Happiness," the "The Knight in Full Armor" and the "Weak Humanity," "The Hostile Forces," the "Poetry," and the "Ideal Realm" of the arts and love. Klimt aligned the position and gestures of his figures with the strict geometry of the purist architecture. He focused on the contour lines, using different degrees of stylization as a way of distinguishing the character of the figures from one another.

Two Studies of a Reclining Draped Figure (Studies for "Longing for Happiness" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The delicately flowing lines in the studies for the rhythmically repeated floating pair of figures of "The Longing for Happiness" corresponds to the metaphysics of this part of the program.

Kneeling Male Nude with Outstreched Arms (Study for "The Sufferings of Weak Humanity" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

An expression of humility and asceticism is conveyed by the figure of the gaunt, kneeling man in profile with his head bent and his arms horizontal and outstretched, associated with the "Weak Humanity". The powerful contours and the modeling in this study point to a relatively high degree of realism.

Woman with Hands Folded (Study for "Compassion" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The sense that the introverted figure of "compassion" is in another supernatural reality immediately stems from the fragile contours of the preparatory study.

In the tilted head, folded hands, and angled arms of the figure Klimt shows his inspiration: the religious side of the modern "Gothic" of Belgian sculptor George Minne.

Standing Female Nude (Study for "The Three Gorgons" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Klimt focused on the theme of the erotic, provocative group "The Three Gorgons" in numerous studies. A slim, stylized standing figure with dark, wild locks embodies the seductive image of the femme fatale. She dominates with sensually flowing lines.

Standing Female Nude (Study for "The Three Gorgons" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The outlines of the haggard nude figure with a hysteric look—characterized by her bright, tousled mass of hair and tense gestures—are a little more angular.

Standing Female Nude with Raised Right Leg (Study for "The Three Gorgons" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Through simple, organically animated contour lines Klimt prepared the female figure which clings to the monster and breaks the right-angle discipline with the zigzag movement of her pointed elbow and raised knee.

Two Composition Sketches for "The Three Gorgons" of the "Beethoven Frieze" (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

In two small, rectangular composition sketches for the trio, Klimt experimented vividly with the linear rhythm of the bodies' contours and the alternating light and dark masses of hair. The staccato of the pubic parts—also emphasized in the frieze—strikes a playful note.

Head of a Woman in Three-Quarter Profile (Study for "Unchastity" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (c. 1901-1902) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

This study for the seductive-looking face of "Lasciviousness" has a particular line melody. Her wavy, flowing mass of hair points to the Symbolist linear art of Jan Toorop, whose influence on Klimt in his Beethoven Frieze was paramount.

Two Crouching Nudes; Two Seated Woman (Study for "The Suffering of Weak Humanity" and "Gnawing Grief" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Klimt focused on the theme of grief in two crouching and two seated figures. The sketches on the right inspired by George Minne in preparation for the "Gnawing Grief" already hint toward Expressionism through their radically angled gestures.

Standing Clothed Woman in Profile (Study for "Poetry" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The study of a standing model in profile for "Poetry" shows us how deeply Klimt delved into the essence of his figures through their poses and gestures. For the long-robed figure, he focused on the subtle interplay between strictly angular and free-flowing lines, with the blank space of the bent arm clearly standing out.

In the drawing, features such as the line of her bent neck, her closed-off facial expression, and her falling hair point to a concentrated listening turned inward. The study seems like a modern variation of a Greek vase motif.

Embracing Couple (Study for "This Kiss to the Whole World" of the "Beethoven Frieze") (1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

In the monumental, strictly isolated couple of the "Ideal Realm" Klimt differentiated between the plasticity and the muscular tension of the man viewed from behind and the flat silhouette of the woman whom he largely conceals. The male-female dialogue between the powerfully pulsating and softly flowing outlines is programmatic.

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The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna

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