Gustav Klimt, the Austrian Symbolist painter renowned for his opulent creations like The Kiss (1907-8) and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), has left an indelible mark on modern art. However, it’s a lesser-known work that has now achieved unprecedented acclaim. Sold for an astounding £85.3m ($108.4m), Lady with a Fan, a painting that was still a work in progress at the time of Klimt’s death in 1918, has become the most valuable artwork ever auctioned in Europe.
A Glimpse into Klimt’s Evolving Imagination in Lady with a Fan
Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan) was created during Klimt’s final years, a period of creative evolution that was tragically cut short by his demise from pneumonia, a consequence of the flu. This exquisite masterpiece, dating back to 1917-18, stands in stark contrast to his renowned earlier works. It provides a window into the direction his imagination was taking, had he not succumbed to the grip of the influenza pandemic.
The painting’s mesmerizing allure is a result of its intricate interplay of patterns and rhythms. Lady with a Fan captures a young woman lost in contemplation, her gaze directed slightly to the left of the viewer. While her identity remains shrouded in mystery, her apparent unawareness of our presence in her intimate space is evident as her ornate robe slips from her arm. With delicate fingers, she clutches a folding fan, shielding her breasts in a fragile balance that seems on the verge of disruption.
An Orchestration of Surface Design
What captivates us is the harmonious clash of patterns, pigments, and textures that define this alluringly stylized scene. Lady with a Fan is a vibrant tapestry of Klimt’s cultural fascinations, seamlessly incorporating influences from flowing Chinese robes to the lyrical elegance of Japanese ukiyo-e woodcuts. These inspirations, collected and cherished by Klimt, infused his creation with an undeniable richness.
The intricate silk of the young woman’s green and gold-striped robe, the delicate blush on her porcelain skin, the cascade of chestnut curls, and the imagined flutter of the fan’s vermillion leaves all contribute to a visual spectacle that unfolds against a chaotic backdrop. Here, a mystical phoenix soars, its emerald feathers cascading like an otherworldly waterfall. Adjacent stands a long-legged crane, its ultramarine breast feathers embodying wisdom and immortality. Amidst this surreal panorama, pink lotus flowers burst forth, symbolizing the timeless essence of beauty.
A Glimpse into Klimt’s Evolution
While renowned for his iconic works like The Kiss and Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, Lady with a Fan showcases the artistic journey Klimt undertook in the decade preceding his passing. Departing from the opulent radiance of gold leaf, this painting embraces a looser, more expressive brushstroke technique. Its intensity arises from the blending of textures, both physical and emotional, converging into a scintillating whole.
The painting’s ethereal nature is accentuated by the sporadic glimpses of unpainted linen canvas, hinting at a potential unfinished quality. Yet, it is precisely this sense of fluidity and fragmentary essence that grants the artwork its exceptional power. Lady with a Fan finds completion in its very incompleteness, inviting viewers into a realm of perpetual transformation and wonder.
Lady with a Fan, a Record-Breaking Triumph
Among the limited privately-owned portraits by Klimt, Lady with a Fan has emerged as a record-breaking masterpiece. Surpassing renowned works like René Magritte’s L’empire des Lumières, Alberto Giacometti’s Walking Man I, and Claude Monet’s Le Bassin aux Nymphéas, this painting stands as a testament to Klimt’s enduring legacy.
Ultimately, Lady with a Fan invites us to peer into a moment frozen in time, a glimpse of Klimt’s evolving artistic trajectory and the profound beauty that resides within the interplay of patterns, textures, and the imagination.