View the press kit of the exhibition Golden Boy Gustav Klimt with press releases, images and more.
The new exhibition Golden Boy Gustav Klimt. Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse… at the Van Gogh Museum presents the work of Gustav Klimt alongside those artists who inspired him.
This is the first retrospective of Klimt’s oeuvre of this scale to be organised in the Netherlands. The exhibition features iconic highlights from all over the world, such as Judith (1901), Emilie Flöge (1902) and Water Serpents II (1904). These works are displayed together with those of other renowned artists, including Van Gogh, Rodin, and Matisse. Golden Boy Gustav Klimt presents an overview of a staggering career characterised by a thirst for liberty and innovation.
Emilie Gordenker, Director of the Van Gogh Museum:
‘This exhibition offers a fresh perspective on Klimt. It doesn’t present him as a lone genius, but rather as a man whose work came into being and flourished thanks to the inspiration offered by international kindred spirits. The Van Gogh Museum has the standing to organise a pioneering exhibition with loans from all around the world, and we hope that visitors from both home and abroad will come to the museum especially to see Golden Boy Gustav Klimt.’
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was one of the foremost artists in imperial fin-de-siècle Vienna, the seat of the Habsburg Dual Monarchy. He is still considered to be one of the most innovative artists of modern art history.
Golden Boy Gustav Klimt uses themes that appear chronologically in Klimt’s oeuvre to chart a truly staggering career. The focus of the exhibition is on Klimt’s development under the influence of contemporaries who – as did Klimt – broke radically with conventions and hankered for innovation.
The exhibition shows Klimt’s powerful female portraits alongside those of Singer Sargent and Whistler. His square landscapes hang side by side with Vincent van Gogh’s paintings. The sensual lines of Rodin and the daring colour compositions of Matisse also had a significant impact on Klimt’s work.
The exhibition features 24 paintings and 12 works on paper by Klimt, alongside the same number of works by other European artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Whistler, Sargent, Toorop, Monet, Rodin, Toulouse-Lautrec and Matisse.
In the 1880s, Klimt was part of a burgeoning trio of young artists, together with his brother Ernst and artist friend Franz Matsch. The men received commissions to decorate important buildings, such as the Burgtheater and the stairwell of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
One of the first works in the exhibition is Klimt’s portrait of composer and pianist Josef Pembaur (1890). The work is traditional as it follows the detailed style of Alma Tadema and Historicism. The references to classical architecture and music on the frame, which was designed by Klimt, are also in line with the conventional historical styles that were long in vogue in Vienna.
But times were changing. A new generation of artists and writers was emerging, defiant of the stifling, petit bourgeois morality. They were devoted to artistic and intellectual innovation. In 1887, Klimt and this group founded the Secession: an art movement dedicated to rattling the Viennese conventions with international art. Klimt eagerly started working in new styles, and soon became the enfant terrible of the Viennese art world.
He was denounced by the introverted established order. The three distinctive ceiling paintings that he made for Vienna University were removed in light of an excess of nudity in the series. But for the Vienna avant-garde who dared to dream beyond the boundaries, Klimt held great promise.
Gustav Klimt certainly lived up to expectations. In 1902, he presented his Beethoven Frieze in the Secession building. This was an homage to Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, the definitive cult figure of the new generation. A life-sized reproduction of the frieze features in the exhibition, accompanied by a number of preliminary studies.
The Beethoven Frieze is the prelude to the ‘golden period’, in which Klimt used gold leaf in his paintings. A spectacular inclusion is the painting Water Serpents II (1904), on public display for the first time in 60 years and one of the highlights of the exhibition.
Another masterpiece from the golden period is Judith (1901), the very first work in which Klimt expressly incorporated gold. The inspiration for the painting is the eponymous Biblical heroine, who freed her people by beheading Holofernes. Klimt brings Judith into his own time, depicting her as a strong, confident Jewish woman at the centre of society.
Klimt accepted many commissions from the Jewish bourgeoisie, thereby distancing himself from the conservative nobility and the establishment in a time in which antisemitism and nationalism were rife. His explicit depictions of female sexuality and autonomy were another rejection of traditional conventions, which saw him align with the revolutionary psychoanalysis of his contemporary Sigmund Freud.
The elegant Portrait of Hermine Gallia (1903-1904) became renowned for the new approach and style. The painting is influenced by the refined female portraits of Whistler and by Impressionism. Klimt was inspired by how Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and other artists depicted Parisian women.
The exhibition also includes world-famous works such as Eugenia Primavesi (1913) and Adele Bloch-Bauer II (1912). The paintings are large, powerful and expressive, with decorative patterns filling the background.
A key work in the exhibition is Portrait of Emilie Flöge (1902), a fashion designer and businesswoman. Klimt spent innumerable summers with her at the Attersee Lake, not far from Salzburg, where he also produced many landscapes. You never have to look far to find Van Gogh’s influence in Klimt’s colourful works with broad, impasto brushstrokes, such as the 1912 painting Avenue to Schloss Kammer.
The exhibition concludes with the monumental painting The Bride (1918). Large parts of the work are unfinished, making it possible to see how Klimt put together his compositions and colour palette. The work was left unfinished on the easel when Klimt died in 1918.
During Klimt’s lifetime, Vienna had flourished into a European metropolis and a melting pot of different peoples and cultures. Yet in the decades following Klimt’s death, the world of freedom and progress that he had helped to shape would collapse. Some of Klimt’s works were stolen by the Nazis, and others became scattered around the world.
The exhibition is accompanied by a richly illustrated catalogue, with contributions from experts on Klimt’s paintings, his drawings, and on Western European modern art. Klimt. Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse is published by Uitgeverij Tijdsbeeld, Ghent in collaboration with the Van Gogh Museum. Distribution in the Netherlands and Flanders: Rubinstein, Amsterdam. The English and German editions are published by Hirmer Verlag.
The Van Gogh Museum invited designer and artist Bas van Beek (1974) to draw inspiration from Gustav Klimt’s work. Van Beek designed a ‘Klimt vocabulary’, a visual language based on the decorations in Klimt’s paintings. Visitors to the exhibition can use the new language to create new patterns in the stairwell.
The exhibition is supported by Rosaline Wong and HomeArt, the Turing Foundation, Fonds 21, the Mondriaan Fund, the Blockbusterfonds, the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Stichting Zabawas, the Creative Industries Fund, the Rembrandt Association, Hyundai and the Fanzhi Foundation for Art and Education.
The exhibition was awarded an indemnity by the Cultural Heritage Agency, on behalf of the Minister of Education, Culture and Science. The exhibition is a collaboration with the Belvedere in Vienna.
Golden Boy Gustav Klimt. Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse… is on display from 7 October 2022 to 8 January 2023.