Gustav Klimt—From Study to Painting

The painter used delicate lines to refine his motifs. His impressive studies provide a sense of the incredible impact of his paintings.

Gustav Klimt, holding a cat in his arm (c. 1911) by Moriz NährWien Museum

"Those who wish to know something about me as an artist—one who is worthy of attention as an individual—should observe my artwork closely and try to work out what I am and what I want."
Quote by Gustav Klimt, undated.

Gustav Klimt und Emilie Flöge im Ateliergarten Josefstädterstraße: Autograf von Gustav KlimtLentos Kunstmuseum Linz

Gustav Klimt's Portraits of Ladies

In around 1900, Gustav Klimt—pictured here with his companion, Emilie Flöge—began producing large-scale portraits of distinguished women in Viennese society, earning him a great deal of recognition. During the preliminary stages, he would create studies. 

Studie für das Bildnis Sonja Knips (1873-1959) by Gustav KlimtLentos Kunstmuseum Linz

Bildnis Sonja Knips (Portrait of Sonja Knips)

This study for his Bildnis Sonja Knips is an early example. Born in Lviv, Ukraine (formerly part of Austria), in 1873, as Sophie Amalia Maria Freifrau Potier des Echelles, Sonja Knips was a great art enthusiast. As an active patron, she owned some of Klimt's works, including a sketch book. 

Her portrait is the first of Klimt's many portraits of women in Viennese society. In 1898, the painter produced a sketch for the painting. His approach was to focus only on the essentials. As such, the facial features are given an ephemeral quality.

Sonja Knips (1897/1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Study for the portrait of Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann (1901) by Gustav KlimtLentos Kunstmuseum Linz

Bildnis Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann (Portrait of Rose von Rosthorn-Friedmann)

This study was created a few years later, in 1901. Rose von Rosthorn (1864—1919) was born into a Viennese corporate dynasty. In 1886, she married the industrialist Ludwig Friedmann and was one of the earliest Austrian mountaineers. 

After the end of World War I, she became infected with typhoid while caring for wounded war veterans. She died in 1919. She was said by Alma Mahler to have had a relationship with Klimt.

Study for the portrait of Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein (1904) by Gustav KlimtLentos Kunstmuseum Linz

Bildnis Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein (Portrait of Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein)

An equally remarkable woman painted by Klimt was Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein. 

She resided in Berlin, New York, Paris, Austria, and Switzerland, and was instrumental in organizing Sigmund Freud's escape from the Nazi regime. As a Jew, she was forced to leave Austria. When the war ended, she returned to Vienna, where she died in 1958.

From the sketch for the painting, which was commissioned by Margarethe's parents on the occasion of her marriage to the American manufacturer Jerome Stonborough in 1904, it is evident that Klimt was particularly interested in the qualities of different materials.

Portrait of Margarethe Stonborough-Wittgenstein (1905) by Gustav KlimtOriginal Source: Neue Pinakothek

Study for the portrait of Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt (1916) by Gustav KlimtLentos Kunstmuseum Linz

Bildnis Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt (Portrait of Baroness Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt)

Baroness Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt was born in 1894, as the daughter of industrialist parents. In 1921, she married Wolfgang Freiherr von Bachofen-Echt, part of a beer brewing dynasty who divorced her due to her Jewish heritage when the National Socialist party took power.

Gustav Klimt confirmed her paternity, enabling her to escape Nazi persecution. The study shows Elisabeth in a full-length pose. Klimt outlined her eyebrows, nose, and hairline in just a few strokes. The sketch is easily comparable with its later painting.

Woman's Head (1917) by Gustav KlimtLentos Kunstmuseum Linz

This Klimt painting shows just how much his drawing skills influenced the way he painted. This small work of art that was found in Klimt's studio when he died in 1918 is one of the artist's final pieces. The female portrait was left unfinished.

Klimt's picture of a woman's head is one of great timelessness and vitality, focused on the fundamental aspects of a portrait. The assuredness and fervor of the drawing are reflected in the small number of concentrated color segments around the face. 

Credits: Story

Based on the writings of Peter Baum

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