Klimt's Painting of Sonja Knips

By Belvedere

Belvedere, Wien

Sonja Knips (1897/1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Sonja Knips (1873–1959) was born Freifrau Potier des Echelles and was one of the few people from nobility Klimt portrayed.

Gustav Klimt with his cat in front of his studio in the Josefstädter Straße 21 in Vienna (1911) by Moriz NährBelvedere

In 1896, she married industrialist Anton Knips. She most likely had an affair with Klimt before her marriage.

Sonja Knips (1897/1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The portrait of Sonja Knips is Klimt's first masterpiece in the new Art Nouveau style. It was first presented to the public at the 2nd Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in November/December 1898.

The most novel aspect of this piece is the soft, delicate application of paint which blurs the contours slightly, similar to a pastel painting. This gives the picture a mysterious and almost reverie-like quality.

Harmony in Grey and Peach Colour (1872 - 1874) by James Abbott McNeill WhistlerHarvard Art Museums

Comparable portraits include, for example, those of American-born and London-based painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Sonja Knips (1897/1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Another novel aspect is the square picture format which brings balance and calmness to the portrait's composition.

Klimt shows Sonja Knips sitting in an armchair, her upper body bent slightly forward.

Her left hand is propped up on the armrest, as if she is about to stand up.

Sonja Knips looks directly into the eyes of the viewer. Her gaze is particularly emphasized by fine highlights in her eyes and has a mysterious aura.

Klimt put a lot of care and attention into reproducing the magnificent silk dress of the model with finely juxtaposed brushstrokes.

In 1898, art writer Ludwig Hevesi especially admired the following about this painting: "the trickling pink of the seated young lady, his first portrait in this intentional newfangled manner."

Above the head of Sonja Knips is a magnificent bouquet of lilies reaching the top edge of the painting. Klimt painted these with great care. With the exception of these flowers, the entire portrait background is kept dark and not characterized further.

Sonja Knips holds a small book bound in red leather in her right hand. It is a sketchbook with drawings by Gustav Klimt.

Red Sketchbook Cover (1897/1903) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The master artist had just been using the sketchbook and may have given it to her a few years later.

Josef HoffmannAustrian National Library

In 1901, Sonja Knips had her Viennese apartment renovated in a modern style by Josef Hoffmann. Hoffmann also built the new Villa Knips in the Döbling district in Vienna in 1926, where Klimt's portraits hung prominently in the parlor room.

Adam and Eve (1916/1917) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

The young lady acquired other works by Klimt, including the painting "Adam and Eve" which is also part of the Belvedere collection today.

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

Sonja Knips was also among those who were particularly concerned about Klimt's legacy after his death in 1918. She supported the Austrian Gallery in acquiring the faculty painting "Medicine" by Gustav Klimt in 1919, for example.

Sonja Knips (1897/1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Credits: Story

Text: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere / Franz Smola

© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere


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