Sexaholic

“All art is erotic” – Gustav Klimt

I don’t know if that’s true for guys like Monet or Gainsborough or Norman Rockwell, but for Klimt himself truer words were never spoken. Arguably one of Austria’s most formidable artistic figures, Gustav Klimt had, as they say, sex on the brain, and everywhere else no doubt ;-) When he wasn’t choking cats, he was creating lusty, seductive images of women in the throes of passion.

gustav-klimt-19021

To some degree, Klimt’s life benefited from highly providential circumstances. He was in the right place at the right time in history. Vienna, at the turn of the century. A bona-fide cultural capital of Europe. While not quite as cutting-edge as Paris, Vienna still offered fertile ground for artistic expression. It was the city of Sigmund Freud and Arnold Schoenberg, theaters, cafes, music, nightclubs, literature, architecture. It glistened during that shining period of European history known as Belle Époque (“beautiful era”). An artist like Klimt couldn’t have asked for a more conducive milieu. If Klimt was in Paris, he might have been just another avante-gardist. But in Vienna he was THE avante-gardist. Better a big fish in a smaller tank, right?

But life didn’t start out so gloriously for Gustav Klimt. Born the second of seven children just outside Vienna in 1862, Klimt grew up in a poor, struggling family. His father, an engraver, had difficulty making ends meet. As a result the family frequently moved from place to place. Like it often does, art school presented a way out of obscurity, and the fourteen year old Klimt entered Vienna’s School of Arts and Crafts on a scholarship. There he immersed himself in the meticulous, decorative techniques of mosaic and fresco. Soon, commissions for public art projects around Vienna came flowing in.

Given Klimt’s propensity for overt sexual imagery, it was only a matter of time before he offended a client. In the 1890s, he was commissioned to create three large paintings on the wall of the University. He did, and was vehemently criticized for their perceived scandalous nature. Klimt was accused of creating “pornography” and using “excessive perversion”. Needless to say, Klimt had an epiphany as a result of the experience. He realized that public work assignments in the government’s employ would never afford him the artistic freedom he required. By 1900, he was out on his own. That meant female models. Nude female models. All day, every day. Let the fun begin!

The studio had the feel of a harem. Klimt’s models strolled around casually in the nude, lounging, napping, stretching, gossiping, each one ready at a moment’s notice to provide erotic poses and explicit sexuality for the intense Klimt. The man himself wore a long, loose-fitting robe and sandals. Mizzi Zimmerman was among those models, and she became pregnant with his child. In true Klimt form, he painted her in her pregnant state, erotically of course.

It’s not an accident that most of Klimt’s models are redheads. He had a thing for them. Here are a few, floating around in blissful, wanton surrender. Water in Motion from 1898:

klimt_watermotion

Klimt became known as “Vienna’s painter prince” and he enjoyed the moniker. Many of the city’s socialites and upper class women approached him for commissioned portraits, friendship, or more. Klimt attempted to seduce every last one of them, with varying success. Among them was Friederike Maria Beer, daughter of a wealthy nightclub owner. Friederike described Klimt as having “animal magnetism”. Klimt also met and had a tempestuous affair with Alma Schindler, the future wife of composer Gustav Mahler. But without question, Klimt’s most famous “rich lady” friend and painting subject was Adele Bloch-Bauer, wife of a wealthy Viennese industrialist. Klimt’s renowned gold-embellished portrait of Adele hangs in the Neue Galerie here in New York. In 2006, Ronald Lauder’s purchase of that painting for $135 million generated such an insane level of hype in this city I have no words to describe the madness. It was nuts.

But it was Klimt’s studio models who were his most exciting and willing muses. Portraiture aside, no Vienna society lady would pose for – let alone pull off – something like this. One of my favorite paintings, this is Danae. If it reminds you of a sleepy, dreaming woman in an orgasmic state, then Klimt did his job well. Girl is feeling goood :-)

klimt-danae1

Klimt did many drawings, some as preparation for paintings. This is Woman Semi-Nude. Nice view!

klimt-woman-semi-nude

Klimt rarely, and I do mean RARELY, used male models. But he clearly needed one for this drawing, Recumbent Lovers. As a drawing it’s nothing spectacular, but I thought my blogosphere fellas would enjoy it. So here you go, guys. A little missionary action for ya’.

klimt-recumbent-lovers

Let’s get horizontal again shall we? Only this time we’ll dispense of heterosexual love and explore homosexuality. For a man like Klimt that meant one thing: lesbians. This is his treatment (one of many) of lesbian eroticism. From 1907, Water Snakes II:

water_snakes_02

Klimt was a hypochondriac. Obsessive about his health, he lifted weights to stay in top physical condition and suffered paranoid fears of diseases, both of body and mind. But there was one disease that Klimt could not protect himself from, not even with the strictest health regimen: syphilis. He contracted it, inevitably, after years of promiscuity and countless affairs.

Comparisons are naturally drawn between Klimt and his Austrian compatriot Egon Schiele. Younger than Klimt by almost 30 years, Schiele reached out to Klimt and became his protege. Like his older mentor, Schiele created art that was considered by many as lewd and pornographic. But Schiele’s sexual imagery seems to have a repellant, debasing effect, while Klimt’s are more sensuous, vivid, and aesthetically engaging. (In my opinion, a parallel between Klimt and Rodin is a more apt comparison artistically).

When asked why he never painted a self-portrait, Klimt explained that “there is nothing special about me . . . whoever wants to know something about me ought to look carefully at my pictures”. That’s an honest, rather than evasive, answer. Look at the pictures, just like the man said. And if “a picture paints a thousands words”, we can safely say that we know Gustav Klimt pretty darn well. We know, above all else, that no subject inspired him more than the female form.

I take issue with this last image. It’s The Virgin from 1913, and I’m ashamed to admit that when I lost my virginity it neither looked nor felt anything remotely like this. What gives? I want a do-over! (too late for that). This is obviously an idealized male fantasy of what a girl’s “transformation” is like. But a gorgeous, decadent panting nonetheless. It glimmers and shimmers, in trademark Klimt style:

klimt-virign

You can find more images and information about Klimt, and things I didn’t cover here – his participation in the Vienna Secession, the “Beethoven Frieze”, and his long term relationship with Emilie Flöge – on this excellent site. Beautifully designed, informative, and visually stunning, it was of great help to me organizing this post.
And as for Museworthy, our horny boy Klimt will be back for sure :-)

17 thoughts on “Sexaholic

  1. Alex says:

    I like Klimt’s work – some of it it quite beautiful. When one is involved in figurative art there is a certain air of sexuality attached to it. I think this may be more so for female models than male models.

    As a male art model I often find myself in action-oriented or dramatic poses. If I’m lucky I get to do a pose involving some form of pathos or suffering. I see drawings of female models in languid and relaxed poses. I sometimes think I wish I could do poses like that…. Then I end up doing some more strenuous, yoga positions for poses.

    There is the far end of the spectrum of course. I see a lot of famous art works depicting rape such as Ruben’s “The rape of the Daughters of Leucippus.” Not the kind of sexuality I would want to depict…. It’s always women who are suffering in such paintings. I always feel bad for the women in such paintings…

    In any case, Klimt’s work seems more dreamy and psychedelic which I feel makes it interesting for the viewer. I knew his work was erotic in nature but I didn’t know much about the man. It all makes sense now.

    Thanks for posting about him…

    -Alex

  2. KENNETH kOPPEL says:

    I was not aware that Alma Mahler actually had an affair with Klimt although she seemed to have one with everyone else. By far her most notorious affair with a visual artist was with Oskar Kokoschka.

    Ken

  3. Ray says:

    claudia

    Another great post from you. With things I didnt know about him.

    It’s interesting that the 1992 version of Bram Strokers Dracula by Francis Ford Coppala used many ideas and costume designs influced by Klimt.
    Keep up the great work and hope your feeling better.
    Ray

  4. swatch says:

    Hey Claudia – this was a full blooded post – thanks hey

  5. lkwinter says:

    John Malkovich does a film about this painter, and I believe I mentioned it when I first met you.

    Klimt’s work? Provocative yet capturing. I’m not certain I can imagine a painting of his in my living room.

    The film, appropriately called “Klimt,” is loaded packed with scenes of art models scurrrying about, a reason why I probably thought of you and your blog. Me, I’m a die hard Malkovich fan, so I was able to learn a little about what life must be like for you, and, of course, get my Malkovich on.

    I bet using the term sexoholic drove up the stats. Combining the internet and word “sex” tends to do that. : )

    I feel like just a bad blogger friend for not knowing you were sick, : \

    I hope you can forgive me and I hope you are, like, better yesterday, and back in action my dear friend.

    scott

  6. Kenneth Koppel says:

    More about Alma Mahler… She wins the honor of seducing more FAMOUS artists – painters, writers, architects, musicians – than any other modern woman. For more information, listen to the Tom Lehrer take off on her – it’s quite accurate. & funny.

    Ken

  7. artmodel says:

    Alex,

    You are so right about poses. Those sprawling, luxurious, sexual poses are generally seen much more among female subjects than male. They suit women better, I think, both physically and emotionally. Plus so many famous artists have been male and therefore had other “agendas” :-)

    I love your use of the word “psychedelic” in describing Klimt’s work. Perfect! I bet he would have liked it to.

    Thanks so much for commenting. Always great to hear from you.

    Claudia

  8. artmodel says:

    Kenneth,

    Oh yes, Alma definitely got around! The woman cast a wide net. I was astonished reading about her many conquests. And she clearly had a strong preference for artistic men.

    Do you know where I could hear the Tom Lehrer parody? That sounds really good.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Claudia

  9. artmodel says:

    Ray,

    Thank you! I never saw the Dracula film, but I can certainly see how Klimt’s imagery would inspire great costume design.

    Claudia

  10. artmodel says:

    lkwinter,

    Yes, I clearly remember you mentioning the Klimt movie. I’ve got to see it. I love biopics, love artist biopics, and am also a Malkovich fan.

    Why Scott, are you suggesting I would gratuitously include the word “sex” in one of my post titles as some cheap tactic to drive up blog stats and pander to the prurient curiosity of Web surfers?? NEVER!! ;-) Nor would I ever add the tag “nude” for the same reason. Tee hee! :lol: :lol: Sarcasm aside, I just liked “sexaholic” because I thought it was kind of funny and catchy.

    There’s nothing to forgive you for, honey. My being sick is hardly the catastrophic event of the year. I always know you’re out there, friend, and it comforts me.

    Thanks for commenting!

    Claudia

  11. artmodel says:

    Swatch, “full-blooded” sounds hot! I like it :-)

    Thanks.
    Claudia

  12. ColdSilverMoon says:

    Interesting post, Claudia. I appreciate Klimt’s talent, but I’m personally not a big fan of his work. I love female nudes in art, even with some erotic charge (I do love Bouguereau, after all). I guess the thing about Klimt is that his themes are so 1-dimensional. Expressing eroticism is great, but there are many more ways than to do it than with nude women in the “throes of passion,” as much as I enjoy the idea of it.

    One of the most intensely erotic paintings I’ve seen is “St. Theresa” by Jean-Antoine Gros. The painting depicts St. Theresa as a nun, fully covered except for her face. Yet the expression on her face is one of such passionate intensity it’s truly piercing and arousing. When I saw the painting at the Met a few years ago I heard women on either side of me whisper to their husband/significant other: “She looks like she’s having an orgasm!” So this painting of a fully-clothed nun in deep prayer was more intensely erotic to me than Klimt’s beautiful nudes in overtly sexual poses.

    I love nudes, particularly female nudes, in art. But eroticism is only a part of it, and if it becomes the sole focus of an artists’ career or even a single painting it quickly becomes boring and shallow, at least to me. So I’ll take Bouguereau’s Day-Evening-Night-Morning series, which depict full female nudity with only a hint of eroticism. But those paintings transcend the erotic into something much grander. I prefer that grandiosity to Klimt.

  13. Ken K says:

    Check out Tom Lehrer on Goggle. You may be able to find the Alama song & download..

  14. artmodel says:

    ColdSilverMoon,

    What great comments. Excellent discussion of eroticism in art. I hear what you’re saying. Klimt’s depictions of female sexuality is not exactly subtle or discreet that’s for sure. I do find them empowering, though, as the woman are not helpless, submissive players in their sexual experiences. So I like that aspect of it. Women in art are often “ravished”, and appear to have sex inflicted on them instead of running the show.

    But your point is well taken as far as the blatant – perhaps too blatant – nature of Klimt’s work. Not much is left to the imagination. And like you said, when sexuality is mysterious or even restrained in some way, the eroticism can be even more powerful and intense. More intriguing for the viewer.

    In Klimt’s defense, he did create non-sexual work, believe it or not! He did many stunning landscapes and “straight” portraits. I chose to focus on his erotic work for this post, as it was his forte. By his own admission, female sexuality was his primary subject of choice.

    Thanks so much for you excellent comments. I enjoyed reading them.

    Claudia

  15. ColdSilverMoon says:

    Good points, Claudia. I hadn’t thought of the “empowered” women in this paintings, but you are very correct, and it is good to see. I love Bernini’s sculptures, but all of the women have that victim-like ravished appearance. It is nice to see women in erotic art assume their position (no pun intended) as one of strength. Thanks for your insightful comments!

  16. Kim Davies says:

    Oh, Claudia – thank you for posting about Klimt. I adore his work, my favourite being Water Snakes II, closely followed by Danae. How I love his use of colour and as a figure artist myself, I relate to his passion for and his attraction to the female form.

    It is a strange and beautiful thing; the sexuality behind the works. I feel it from Klimt and I experience it myself. There is no greater subject and Klimt portrays his desires and erotic charges perfectly.

    Sexaholic? Yes…a very apt description. In my case…perhaps only attractaholic applies.

    Wonderful post, my friend. So very well written.

    Kim.x

    • artmodel says:

      Kim,

      Thank you! This is an old but personal favorite post on Museworthy. I really enjoyed putting it together.

      I love Klimt too. For sexual imagery that is not vulgar or off-putting, I’d say no one is better.

      Thanks so much for your very kind words! They mean a lot :-)

      Claudia

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