Gustav Klimt: Beethoven Frieze

Klimt was one of the artists responsible for the Secession movement in Vienna, Austria. He had previously been a major part of the Austrian symbolist movement but turned away from them after deaths in his family influenced his inspirational  output. He was at the forefront of promoting the Secession movement and was widely respected and his works highly coveted. His main source of inspiration was the female body, which he liked to ornament with bright colors, gold leaf and incredible patterns. The Secession movement did not have a manifesto but its goal’s were clear from the outset: the promotion of younger painters who were working outside the academy in new and interesting ways as well as publishing a periodical showcasing the movement’s work. It is hard to define the Secession because there was no set style and different artistic modes working alongside each other within the Secessionist community. Painting was by no means the only medium of the movement. Other figures included clothing designers, furniture designers, and architects. Other important Secession figures include but are not limited to: Egon Schiele, Oskar Kokoschka, Koloman Moser, Emile Floge, and to a certain extent (though not a formal member of the group) the architect Otto Wagner.


The Beethoven Frieze was executed before most of Klimt’s most famous works but it shows a delicacy and interest in large design that is not apparent in The Kiss (1907, Galerie Belvedere, Vienna) or in his portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907, Neue Galerie in New York).

“In 1902, Klimt created one of his most famous works, the Beethoven Frieze, for an exhibition of the Secession movement. The entire show was an homage to Ludwig van Beethoven. Klimt’s monumental frieze greeted visitors in the entrance hall. Thirty-four meters wide and two meters high is this opulent, ornamental “symphony”; in which Klimt sought to immortalize Beethoven’s “Ninth” and its interpretation by Richard Wagner.

Not only contemporaries were deeply impressed by this work – the world at large is still showing its appreciation. Originally, the cycle was intended to be dismantled once the exhibition had ended. A collector bought the frieze in 1903 and removed it from the wall, separating it into seven pieces. In 1973, the Republic of Austria bought the valuable work and made it accessible to the public in 1986 in a room specially created for it in the Secession.” – from the Vienna Tourist website*.

Klimt’s Frieze was based on Wagner’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, celebrating humankind’s ‘struggle on the most magnificent level by the soul striving for joy’, reached in the unification of all arts. The fresco, beginning at the left, forms a cohesive narrative.


On the first wall we encounter the Floating Genii, gliding female figures that symbolize a ‘Yearning for Happiness’. They are followed by Suffering Humanity, a naked kneeling couple and a standing girl. Suffering Humanity offer their pleas to the Knight in Shining Armour, who stands for the external driving forces. The female figures behind him, Compassion and Ambition, represent internal motivation moving him to take up the fight for happiness.
The short end wall is devoted to the Hostile Forces, the giant Typhoeus and his daughters, the three gorgons. Above them are Sickness, Madness and Death (three women with black hair). To Typhoeus'(the bear-like creature) right are Lasciviousness, Wantonness and Intemperance (the woman with an engorged stomach seen above and the two behind her) with the cowering Nagging Care beyond. The yearnings and desires of humankind fly past them.
On the final wall the yearning for happiness finds appeasement in Poetry (the figure with lyre). An empty segment in the frieze, where a wall opening revealed a view of Klinger’s statue in the 1902 exhibition, is followed by The Arts: five female figures representing the ‘ideal realm’, a place of ‘pure joy, pure happiness, pure love’. The frieze concludes with a choir of angels ‘singing in paradise’ and the powerful image of a kissing couple.

This incredible series of works is a brilliant evocation of Beethoven’s work and Klimt shows his aptitude for visually representing the emotion one feels while listening to the Ninth.

Link to website for dates and times the Secession Building is open to see it:
Secession

Article taken and edited from the art daily

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