Zoom Into Klimt's 'Girlfriends (Water Serpants)'

By Belvedere

Belvedere, Wien

Friends (Water serpants) (1904/1907) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Some of Klimt's most original motif creations include depictions of fairytale water spirits which Klimt refers to as "mermaids" or "water serpents." With their flowing and floating movements, they appear as dreamy, passive, self-absorbed beings.

One striking example is this painting which Klimt produced in 1904 as a valuable miniature work on a small sheet of parchment.

Karl Wittgenstein (1908) by Ferdinand SchmutzerAustrian National Library

The industrialist Karl Wittgenstein acquired this work for the same sum as one of Klimt's large portraits.

Friends (Water serpants) (1904/1907) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

In this work, Klimt masterfully uses a variety of different shapes derived from plant and animal motifs. In terms of how remarkably slender the figures are, Klimt also seems to have been inspired by works by Dutch Art Nouveau painter Jan Toorop.

Gustav Klimt, Fish Blood, in: Ver sacrum, H. 3, 1898 (1898) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Klimt sketched mermaid-like water spirits as well as fish as early as 1898 in a drawing he created for the magazine Ver Sacrum called "Fish Blood."

Friends (Water serpants) (1904/1907) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

To anchor Girlfriends (Water Serpents I) in the depths of the water in a plausible way, Klimt paints a shimmering fish head in the bottom-right of the image. It captures the viewer's gaze with its staring eye.

The powerful snake-like bodies with a turquoise dorsal fin wind around each other and evidently allude to mystical hybrid beings.

Golden shimmering algae plants grow in the light from the ocher-colored sea chalk on the sea bed. They suggest the flow of water with their gentle movement.

The concept of involving underwater creatures is based on the quest—one inherent in symbolism—to visualize a supernatural world unexplored by man. It is also founded on curiosity about the mysteries of the world and the wonders of nature.

Credits: Story

Text: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere / Franz Smola

© Österreichische Galerie Belvedere


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