It was late 2003, 3rd semester of Architecture College, we were being assigned famous art periods for our end of semester presentations. It was then while working on my assignment for impressionism that I was first drawn towards art, or more so towards the story of the artist, the anecdote behind a work of art and its impact on the social fabric. Vincent Van Gough a post impressionist painter who died of self inflicted gunshot wounds at the age of 37 was the first artist I was fascinated by. His story is a testimony of how great adversity alone leads to great art, it was the legend of Van Gough slicing his ear and gifting it to his lover (unverified http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/van-gogh-chops-off-ear) that stayed with me more than any of his art works.
In 2009 I received a postcard, yes a good old fashioned hand written postcard from a young woman travelling through Europe. The post card from Vienna had a snippet of Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven’s Freeze (https://suitesculturelles.wordpress.com/2011/08/23/beethoven-frieze-the-kiss-to-the-whole-world/) by then the little knowledge of art and art periods that I acquired in Architecture College had long left my conscious. This segment of Beethoven’s Freeze is popularly known as the “kiss to the whole world” it has two lovers in embrace painted in the nude, protected by an embellished shield, the bodies melt into a golden glow of the sun from head above. I knew nothing about this artist or his works all I knew was when I build a house I will have a reproduction of his gold gilded painting in an embellished frame on a purple wall, the idea has evolved since. When I finally spoke to my friend about the post card, she passionately described her time in Vienna and the extensive use of gold in the works of Gustav Klimt that she was fortunate enough to witness in person.
I kept revisiting Klimt sparingly until 2014 when I joined the “Young Orator’s Club Secunderabad” (https://www.facebook.com/groups/yocsymca/?fref=ts), it’s a meeting place where young and old gather in a humble abode within the YMCA premises to hone their oratory skills. The club holds three events every Saturday evening, the first one is a book or art review open to guests and members, the second event is called a minor where a member chooses a topic to be delivered to the house in a ten minute long speech this the session concludes with the reflections of the house, lastly one of the members conducts a major which varies from being an open debate to an extempore as deemed fit by the chair. After delivering a few in prompt speeches during the majors, I decided to take on the first event one of the evenings (the minor and the major are reserved for members only). Since I am not much of a reader I knew it had to be an art review, I knew it had to be Klimt.
Being the romantic that I am I thought of this as a fitting opportunity to pay tribute to the post card from 2009? That wasn’t to be, as I read more and more about Klimt and his works I drew away from “the kiss to the whole world” and drew closer to Adele Bloch Bauer, I drew closer to Judith (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_and_the_Head_of_Holofernes). Klimt was one of the pioneers of the Viennese Secession movement; he was one of the first few artists to experiment with gold gilding in his works, a skill he inherited from his father who was a gold engraver. Like many creative people Gustav was particularly popular with the ladies, he allegedly fathered at least fourteen children in his youth. His fascination with the female form is explicitly at view in many of his early works (including the Beethoven’s Frieze). One of his much loved muse was Adele Bloch Bauer, a socialite and wife of a Viennese industrialist that commissioned Klimt to paint her portrait on more than one occasion.
The portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer I (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Adele_Bloch-Bauer_I) is believed to be the most expensive artwork in the world and has an interesting story of its own. Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee living in Los Angeles, who, together with her young lawyer, Randy Schoenberg, fought the government of Austria for almost a decade to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, which was confiscated from her relatives by the Nazis in Vienna just prior to World War II. Altmann took her legal battle all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States, which ruled in her favor in 2004 (watch the movie woman in gold http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_in_Gold). I reviewed Klimt’s Judith for my art review and how both Judith and The Woman in Gold despite having the same models portrait such stark contrasts of womanhood. While you see Adele as a semi nude, intense seductress and murderer in Judith, the same Adele is portrayed almost expressionless adorning an embellished golden gown in “the woman in gold”.
My review didn’t go as planned but the preparation introduced me to the stories that once brought me closer to art. The stories of depression and rebellion, the stories of love and passion, the stories of romance that we wish to live and relive. The stories that reminded me of a story of my own, reminded me of the romance and passion of the woman that introduced me to Klimt in 2009, the woman that I married in 2013 in the hope that we’ll always keep the same romance alive. As September comes closer it shall be another chapter in our journey and where it all started, as we hope to relive Vienna and Klimt together in the company of friends and fellow romantics.