Private Collection, Europe (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, London, October 10, 2001, lot 51)
Acquired at the above sale
Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) is a breathtaking example of the revolution that was taking place in both the work of Gustav Klimt and in the foundation of the arts across disciplines in Fin de Siècle Vienna. Recent scholarship has suggested that Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) was, in fact, a part of the second secessionist exhibition in 1898. According to Tobias G. Natter this connection was overlooked due to Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) residing in the same family’s collection since it was acquired directly from the artist where it remained until the 21st century: “Astonishingly, this…female portrait has barely featured in the literature up till now. The fact that it was long considered lost—even though it remained in family ownership throughout—is probably the primary reason why it has not yet been adequately acknowledged as a model for the life-size Portrait of Sonja Knips… Furthermore, it can he be demonstrated for the first time that both pictures were first shown in public at the same exhibition, namely the second Secession. By taking a closer look at what Hevesi wrote about the exhibition, it becomes clear that he talks not only about the Portrait of Sonja Knips but also about a second female portrait…. This atmospheric picture was probably the portrait under discussion here" (T. Natter, ed., op. cit., p. 554).
Painted in 1897-98, the present work is a rare example of Klimt’s early portraiture. From the early days of his artistic career, Klimt established himself as a portraitist, painting both commissioned portraits, mainly of female members of the Viennese high society, and the more intimate ones of his companion Emilie Flöge. Klimt also executed a number of allegorical compositions, treating the human figure with a similar stylized and decorative quality that dominates his portraits. Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) shows the artist’s affiliation with the Symbolist painters of the late nineteenth century. The female sitter, richly swathed in a matching red dress and hat, her narrow waist belted in a deep green, is seated in a patterned armchair against an abstracted background of brownish-red and taupe. The serenity and delicate pallor of her face is echoed in the ghostly quality of the two outlined heads in the upper left of the composition.
Dame im Fauteuil (Woman in Armchair) is square in format, a device which would be used by Klimt going forward in many of his works, particularly his landscapes. For portraiture this format allowed him to balance a full length seated figure against the picture plane. As Tobias G. Natter and Gerbert Frodl note: “The portraitist [Klimt] frequently returned to this characteristic square format that became a trademark of the Wiener Jugendstil and owed its success to no less an extent to Josef Hoffmann. In his landscape paintings, Klimt uses it almost exclusively. In the portrait of Sonja Knips, he divided the square into halves with corresponding contrast between light and dark, foreground and background, full and empty” (Klimt’s Women (exhibition catalogue), Österreichsiche Galerie Belvedere, Vienna, 2000-01, p. 84).
Depicted with a palette of rich, earthy tones, the painting is illuminated by an invisible light source, the warm glow of the woman’s face radiating against the dark background. The play of light renders her face with a stunning, almost sculptural three-dimensionality. This softness in execution and attention to modelling are present only in a small number of Klimt’s early portraits, most notably in the celebrated Bildinis Sonja Knips painted in 1898, now at the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna. The expressive style and bold execution, visible in the present work, are characteristic of Klimt’s portraits dating from the last years of the nineteenth century, and distinguish them irrevocably from the academic portraiture that still dominated much of German an Austrian art of this period.
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