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portrait-of-adele-bloch-bauer-i(1).jpg!Blog
When I saw Klimt’s golden portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer at the Neue Galerie in NY in December I thought “mummy”—as in dead, as in Egyptian.
What if instead of creating a celebration of Adele’s beauty, both physical and spiritual, Klimt was really showing his disgust with her wealth and status in society?
Most of the surface is gold leaf. He only painted her face, shoulders, forearms and hands. She is quite simply trapped and lifeless in gobs of gold. She is dead and buried. The association to Egyptian mummification is strengthened by what looks like the Egyptian hieroglyphics for “eye” all through the central panel under her face. This may be a reference to her reputation as an art lover, i.e. having an “eye for art and beauty.”
The painting is dated 1907. We can be sure that Adele was flattered by being shown wrapped in all this gold, which has a long history of being associated with royalty, but also, going back to Byzantine icons, with heaven and divinity.
What if artists are not as dumb and subservient as their wealthy patrons consider them to be? What if Gustav Klimt, who thought of himself as a prophet and above societal conventions, played a joke on Mr. Bloch-Bauer? He took his money and handed him a dead thing. Or, as Peter Schjeldahl calls it, a “flattish bauble, a thing, a whatsit.” Schjeldahl covers the money angle, which is what this is all about:
http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/changing-my-mind-about-gustav-klimts-adele
John Malkovich is worth seeing in “Klimt,” directed by Raoul Ruiz, 2006.
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