Presented over the following pages are three of Klimt’s preparatory studies for portraits of Fritza Riedler, Elisabeth Lederer and Miss Lieser. In multiple drawings Klimt experimented with slight variations of pose and composition in order to caption his sitter as distinctly as possible. The drawings are characterised by wonderfully fluid lines, brimming with vitality.
The fashion-conscious artist often incorporated extravagant patterns and geometric designs into his work and those who sat for his portraits, and may have been dressed in the current fashions, were often reimagined entirely to the artist’s own taste. Klimt appears to have used the sitter’s dress to add meaning. Whilst the frills on Fritza Riedler’s dress playfully underline the wearer’s femininity the close fitting dress of Elisabteh Lederer seems more suitable to showcase her petite stature and fragile complexion, whilst Miss Lieser’s patterned shawl appears to be wrapped around her shoulders protectively.
Marian Bisanz-Prakken observed: ‘The dialect of body language and gestures on the one hand, and the vitality of the clothing on the other hand thus became the hallmark of his portraiture’ (Marian Bisanz-Prakken ‘Klimts Studies for the Portrait Paintings’ in Tobias G. Natter & Gerbert Frodl (ed.), Klimt’s Women, p.199). And further: ‘The thoroughness with which Klimt approached his subject in preparatory studies might seem superficially academic and almost anachronistic. In actual fact, in each drawing, he took up the challenge anew to integrate the figure standing before him into the overall “world of the artist”. Within his unchanging, self-imposed limitations he sought a balance between emotional expression and a higher order. In other words, above and beyond the function of a preparatory study, each drawing took on the creed-like aspect of the urgent and the definitive’ (ibid., p. 204-205).
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