Klimt's Studies for the Faculty Painting "Medicine"

Albertina Museum

Portrait of Gustav Klimt in profile facing left (1905) by Friedrich Viktor SpitzerWien Museum

In the Albertina Museum, the drawn studies for "Medicine" are a particular highlight. A completely new approach to the naked human body had already manifested itself in the artist's studies for "Philosophy". In the drawings for the painting "Medicine"—created in 1901 as a counterpart to "Philosophy"—Klimt further developed these newly discovered methods.

Gustav Klimt's painting "Medicine" (nach 1901) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

The faculty painting "Medicine" was first exhibited in the Secession in 1901. In analogy to the cycle of life in "Philosophy" the considerably enlarged "Suffering Humanity" group seems like a detail lifted from an endless, vertically drifting stream of naked creatures of various ages.

Transfer Sketch for "Medicine" (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

A large crowd of densely overlapping yet completely inward-turned figures embodies all the nuances of physical and mental suffering.

These trance-like figures, however, do not express their own personal pain. Rather, they symbolize supraindividual states of mind, emotional values, or primal conditions of human existence. As a result their gestures and movements seem as if guided from above.

The numerous studies of a variety of models testify to Klimt's never-ending search for the formulas suitable for particular emotional feelings. He focuses on the individual in many different poses or on a specific body fragment.

Two Studies of a Standing Nude (Study for the oil sketch for "Medicine") (1897-1898) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Sometimes he spent several years searching for the ideal solution to a particular figure, as is manifest in the group of drawings for the woman floating in space. Giving birth to a child in the painting, she symbolizes the persistence of mankind. 

Floating Nude with left Arm Spread (Study for "Medicine") (1897-1898) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Two Studies of a standing Nude with Outstreched Arms (Studies for "Medicine") (c. 1897) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Study of a standing Nude (Study for the oil sketch for "Medicine") (c. 1897) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Floating Female Figure in Profile (Study for the oil sketch for "Medicine") (1897-1898) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

In some of these studies Klimt experimented with a profile position.

Floating Woman with Outstretched Arm (Study for the first version of "Medicine") (c. 1900-1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The end result of this intensive search proves to be a perfect correlation between style and expression. The linearly stylized nude sensually projects outward and seems to vanish at the same time.

Floating Male Nude, Seen from Below (Earliest Study for "Medicine") (c. 1896) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Klimt captured the male counterpart in 1896 with elastic contours.

Hygieia with Broad Headdress (Study for the oil sketch for "Medicine") (1897-1898) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

In the study for the column-like, front-facing figure of Hygeia, Klimt emphasized the finely pleated garment and the magic of her simple, angled arm gesture.

Naked Pregnant Woman; Upper Body of an Old Man (Studies for the first version of "Medicine") (1900-1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Klimt's earliest dealings with the taboo theme of pregnancy are combined here with the depiction of an old man bent over in grief.

Two Studies of Pairs of Wrestlers (Studies for the transfer sketch for "Medicine") (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

In the studies of wrestling men, he emphasized the geometrically interlaced shapes of their bodies.

Men Wrestling (Study for the transfer sketch for "Medicine") (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Men Wrestling (Study for "Medicine") (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Female Nude, Seen from Behind; Distraught Old Man (Study for the first version of "Medicine") (1900-1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

With caution but also occasional unsparing realism, he models their bodies using fine hatching.

Head of an Old Man; Seated Female Nude, Seen from Behind; Detail of a Female Torso (Studies for the first version of "Medicine", 1901) (1900-1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Their bodies and faces are partially modeled with white highlights.

Seated Male Nude, Seen from Behind (Study for the version of "Medicine" shown in 1903) (1902-1903) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The study of a seated male figure as seen from behind has a meditative, self-contained character. He used red chalk relatively frequently, perhaps in view of the dominant red in the painting.

Five Studies of a Sleeping Baby (Study for the first version of "Medicine", 1901) (1900-1901) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

A sheet with several small sketches shows the sensitive and accurate approach Klimt took to the portrayal of a sleeping baby.

Two Studies of a Skeleton (Studies for the transfer sketch for "Medicine") (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

An equally sensitive interpretation is seen in the rhythmic line study of the skeleton for the figure of death.

Seated Male Nude, Seen from Behind (Study for the transfer sketch for "Medicine"), Elephant, Aesculap (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The motif of the nude male back can be observed in a number of other studies.

Seated Male Nude, Seen from Behind (Study for the transfer sketch of "Medicine") (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

Transfer Sketch for "Medicine" (c. 1900) by Gustav KlimtAlbertina Museum

The broad repertoire of motifs in the faculty paintings "Philosophy" and "Medicine"—containing all the fundamentals of human existence from procreation to death—is something that Klimt continued to call back to both as a draftsman and a painter.

Credits: Story

The ALBERTINA Museum, Vienna

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