The time is la Belle Èpoche, the place is Vienna. Women are still corseted, but Freud is probing their psyche; while Art Nouveau begins to sweep the continent, Gustav Klimt and Josef Hoffman ‘secede’ in igniting a new world of art and architecture.
The excitement at press conference was palpable, even in an off-Art Biennale year. And such a crowd: perhaps two hundred journalists and photographers, gathered in one of the most splendid ballrooms in the city. Not to dance, at least not literally…
The Museo Correr on Piazza San Marco has just launched “the art event of the year in Italy,” according to Correr director Gabriella Belli, and hails a return to international collaboration for the museum because, as director of the Belvedere in Vienna Agnes Husslein-Arco puts it, “A country’s art is its best ambassador.”
“Being his 150th birthday year,” reported Husslein-Arco, “We had requests from all over the world to host Klimt’s work. But we chose Venice.”
The Secession was the movement in Vienna founded in 1897 by Klimt and architect-interior designer Josef Hoffman (among others), so named because they seceded from the conservative artist’s union of the time to pursue and document the creation of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art.
The exhibit itself is multifaceted, and richly illustrates the symbiotic collaboration between Klimt and Hoffman along with their contemporaries with a commentated timeline of two decades of paintings, jewelry, personal artifacts, and even the Beethoven Friezes (albeit copies) created by Klimt, once installed the iconic Hoffman building modeled before it.
The museum interior has been completely refashioned to highlight the works presented: windows are covered, walls re-formed and painted, and in some cases effectively replaced (as in the case of the friezes) to permit each work to shine.
And shine they do. Curator and Klimt expert Alfred Weidinger recounted the story of when Klimt was visiting Venice with a few friends, one of which was the charming Alma Schindler (later Mahler, whose former-Venetian abode is now the Oltre il Giardino B&B). The luminous mosaics of the San Marco Basilica interior, along with the equally luminous Alma Schindler, must have created quite an impression on Klimt, which manifested, said Weidinger, during his Golden Phase when he employed the extensive use of gold leaf and recalled mosaic form in paintings such as the opulent Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer* and The Kiss. The deeply-hued walls are ideal for featuring these works’ shimmering golden tones.
The Kiss is not at the Correr (“The Kiss does not travel,” in fact); but Judith is here, as is Salomè, the Portrait of Marie Henneberg (above), and even Girasole — the Sunflower — donated to the Belvedere only ten days before the opening of the show at the Correr. (By the way, Salomè did not travel to the Correr from the Belvedere—but instead from across the Canal at the permanent collection at Venice’s own Ca’ Pesaro museum of modern art, where it was acquired after Klimt’s grand success at the Biennale of 1910. In fact, Ca’ Pesaro is hosting a collateral exhibition on the same theme, The Spirit of Klimt, a perfect complement the Correr exhibit.
Klimt was an interesting character; he painted no self portrait (If you want to see me, look at my work) and kept no diary. He died of complications of Influenza 1918, leaving a number of unfinished paintings.
So, Happy 150th Birthday, Heir Klimt. We’re happy to be able to celebrate your life and work today in this splendid exhibit.
Klimt in the Sign of Hoffman and the Secession
Museo Correr, Piazza San Marco
Vallaresso stop (Line 1, Line 2)
Daily 10 – 7pm (ticket office closes at 6pm)
through July 8
discounts for seniors, students, and with the San Marco Museum pass.
* A recent NPR story highlights The Lady in Gold, a book recounting the recovery of Adele’s Portrait, appropriated by the Nazis during WWII.