KLIMT, THE SECESSION, AND ITALY – If you happen to be in Rome this next March, do not miss this scintillating exhibition at Palazzo Braschi, the Museum of Rome, just steps away from Piazza Navona. Two hundred works of art, including Judith I and Friends I, The Bride, among the most celebrated masterpieces by the Viennese master, will be on show until March 27th, 2022. Busy during the weekends, quieter on working days, we advise to prebook: Klimt. La Secessione e l’Italia | Museo di Roma. If you need an expert guide: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Italy was for Gustav Klimt (1862-1914) a source of artistic inspiration and a land of professional successes. He visited for the first time in 1899, his traveling companions were Carl Moll and his family. Klimt was in love with Alma Schindler (that later was to marry Gustav Mahler), Moll’s stepdaughter, with which he visited St Mark’s Basilica, appreciating its famous mosaics. But it was Ravenna, that he visited twice in 1903, with its splendid Byzantine mosaics, to boost Gustav Klimt’s glistening ‘Golden Phase’, a decade of his career to which he owes his lasting success.
The dazzling image of Empress Theodora (San Vitale’s Basilica), sumptuously attired and surrounded by sparkling golden mosaic tiles inspired one of Klimt’s most well-known portraits, representing Adele Bloch-Bauer (1907), the ‘Woman in Gold’ of the homonymous book and movie.
The only Italian site represented by Klimt in Italy is Malcesine, a scenic village on Lake Garda, where he spent the summer of 1913, vacationing with his mother and sisters. The painting Malcesine on Lake Garda disappeared during World War II. A reproduction of it is visible at the exhibit.
Klimt participated twice with his works to the Venice Biennale, in 1899, with just two pieces, and in 1910, when he had an entire room for himself, signed by the Austrian architect Eduard Josef Wimmer-Wisgrill. The famous painting Friends, show-cased at the exhibit in Rome, was present, together with another iconic work from Klimt’s Golden Phase, Water Snakes II. The artist was criticized and, as it frequently happened, his works were considered ‘scandalous’. Nino Barbantini, director at Ca’ Pesaro, defended Klimt’s ‘modernity’ and bought the intense Judith II.
Klimt and other members of his group (the Viennese Secession, founded in 1897, split in 1905, when Klimt, Hoffmann, Moser, and a group of other artists resigned) took part in 1911 to the International Exhibition of Arts in Rome. At the center of the Austrian Pavilion was Klimt’s room, often called ‘The Apse’ or the ‘Temple’ for its semi-circular shape and its sacred aura. The eight works by Klimt included The Kiss, the portraits of Mrs Wittengstein and Emilie Flöge, plus elaborate symbolistic works, which made a strong impression with their exuberant lines and colors.
The exhibition in Rome also gives room to those Italian artists that saw the works of Klimt and his group and followed his style: the Muranese Vittorio Zecchin with his cycle A Thousand and One Nights, or such as Felice Casorati, watchful of the developments of Art Nouveau in Europe.
Rome gave life to its own Secession in 1912, and, in 1914, the second exhibition of the group saw the participation of Klimt’s circle. Besides paintings and drawings, the Association of Austrian Artists was also present with ceramics, textiles, embroideries, golden and silver objects.
Amongst the highlights of the exhibition: Section 6, dedicated to Judith I (1901) were Gustav Klimt pays homage to female erotism, giving his own very personal version of a biblical figure so dear to painters of any time. Section 8, devoted to Klimt’s Faculty Paintings (1899-1907). Three enormous panels, representing Philosophy, Medicine, and Jurisprudence, were rejected by the University of Vienna as ‘obscene’.
They were lost (most probably in a fire) in May 1945, during the SS retreat. In 2021 they were reconstructed thanks to artificial intelligence (from black and white pictures) with their original colors. They are considered by critics amongst the milestones of Gustav Klimt’s early maturity
A room we particularly enjoyed is Section 9, starring Beethoven’s Frieze. Presented by the Viennese Secession in 1902, as part of their XIV exhibition, this homage to Beethoven show-cased the contributions of different artists, the most sensation being Gustav Klimt’s 34 meters long frieze, can be interpreted as a visual representation of the 9th Symphony. This monumental artwork has miraculously survived until today!
Besides the 14 sections, Palazzo Braschi’s Exhibit proposes a FOCUS on a Portrait of a Lady (1916-17) by Gustav Klimt, stolen under mysterious circumstances in 1997 from Galleria Ricci Oddi in Piacenza, to be found in 2019 by two gardeners hidden inside an external museum wall. Klimt painted this seductive female portrait on top of another representation of the same woman, with a completely different outfit and hairstyle.
Klimt, the Secessionm and Italy at Palazzo Braschi opens every day except Monday from 10 am until 7.00 pm.