The figure of Danaë was the last subject that Klimt would draw from Greek mythology. In the painting, it depicts the moment of Danaë’s impregnation by Zeus, represented by a shower of golden rain that falls from above to between the figure’s legs. According to the myth, the King of the Gods took pity on the princess after her father, the King of Argos, had decided to intern his daughter upon hearing a prophecy that his death would be at the hands of a grandson. Presenting the model unabashedly naked, Klimt infuses the painting with a tangible, almost shocking sensuality. While Danaë was a popular subject during the early 1900s as a symbol for divine love and transcendence, Klimt exploited the opportunity of representing a literary character by pushing the boundaries of sexual representation, while seemingly retaining its acceptability for the Viennese bourgeoisie. In his painting, the undulating contours of her body serve to emphasise the sensual lines of her buttock, thigh and breast, while the clenched hand belies her apparent repose and reveals a moment of arousal, heightened by her slightly parted lips.
In Zurückgelehnt liegender Frauenakt nach links, the sexual charge is more muted and it instead reveals the momentary transience of the woman’s slumbered state. The hand is closed, rather than clenched and the model’s expression appears relaxed as if she is falling asleep. This work remains an essential study for one of the most important oils within Klimt’s oeuvre; it heralds the artist’s command over the fluidity of line and offers a tantalising insight into the interior of his studio.
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