I spent a delicious hour browsing in the art section of Strand Bookstore the other night. For non-New Yorkers, or anyone who hasn’t experienced it, you should know that the Art section of Strand is a thing to behold. Although I don’t always, this time I walked out with a purchase: softcover book of Gustav Klimt drawings. At $6.95 a great bargain.
My book purchase sent me into Klimt mode. He’s one of my very favorite artists and it’s always good to re-visit favorites from time to time, to refresh our adoration, and be reminded of why we love them. So the time has come for me to post a magnificent Klimt that I’ve been meaning to share for the longest time. It’s archetypal Klimt. It’s dazzling. It’s colorful. It’s the one and only Emilie Flöge.
Portrait of Emilie Flöge, 1902, Gustav Klimt:
To say that women were Klimt’s preferred artistic subjects would be a spectacular understatement. Indeed, Klimt was a superb landscape painter, but his works of female models are his most notable, and memorable, creations. He acted on his obsessions with women unabashedly, and those obsessions were alive and kicking not just on his canvases but in his personal life as well. The man had a ferocious sexual appetite.
Emilie Flöge, however, was more than just some passing object of Klimt’s lust and affection. Not just another model strolling nude around his studio. Emilie was his partner, muse, and companion for years, right up until his death in 1918. They first met in 1891 when Emilie’s sister Helene married Ernst Klimt, Gustav’s brother. When Ernst died suddenly a year later, Klimt took on the role of guardian for Helene and became close with then 18 year old Emilie, also his sister-in-law.
Emilie was a skilled seamstress and, along with her sister Helene and older sister Pauline, started a dressmaking company that specialized in haute couture. The Flöge sisters salon, located in the heart of Vienna, was a great success. Emilie was an excellent businesswoman and a free-thinking, visionary designer. She created fashions during a most exciting, thriving era for all areas of arts and design – the turn-of-the-century and early 20th century. For women’s garments this signified a gradual goodbye to the dreaded corset, and the ushering in of looser shapes and less-constricting styles, which became known as “Reformed Dress”. Attitudes were changing. The Flöge sisters also promoted bolder patterns, many of which were designed by Emilie’s companion, Gustav Klimt. He also took fashion photographs, drew sketches, and designed some dresses himself. I bet all you men who admire Klimt as a macho, womanizing painter didn’t know he contributed his talents to the fashion world did you? I think it’s so cool! Klimt even designed the smock-like garment he is often wearing in photographs. Gustav Klimt, fashionista and metrosexual
In researching Emilie’s life on the internet, I found some of the best information on fashion websites. Check this one out and this one. And more photos of Emilie modeling her fashions on this message board.
It is unclear whether Klimt and Emilie’s relationship was romantic and sexual or purely platonic and professional. But Emilie is believed to be the female model in Klimt’s famous work The Kiss, which obviously suggests a sexual relationship. Either way, the two shared a very close bond. Their artistic pursuits and bohemian sensibilities made them an impressive pair, sought out by Viennese high society for commissioned art and custom made fashions.
This is a cute picture of them in their frocks:
My Klimt post from March 2009.