The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey
2012 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the painter Gustav Klimt. Klimt was born in Baumgarten, now the outskirts of Vienna in 1862, into a creative but poor family. Gustav Klimt attended the Vienna School of Arts and Crafts on a scholarship and then made a career as a commissioned painter of murals. To mark the anniversary the museums and galleries in the city of his birth, Vienna, are mounting exhibits of his work and the work of other artists and designers of the Vienna Secession movement.
Elizabeth Hickey uses fact and imagination to weave together a story about Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge in her novel named for one of the artist’s most well known portraits The Painted Kiss. The works we know best by Gustav Klimt are his portraits – many are of the wealthy Viennese women of this time, the daughters and wives of powerful men, including Emilie Floge. Klimt and Emilie met in 1886 when she was a young teenager and was brought to Klimt for art lessons. Their relationship changed when Emilie comes of age and, as other women came into and out of the life of Gustav Klimt, Emilie remained a constant companion, his friend and (possibly) sometimes lover until his death in 1918.
Emilie Floge also became a successful business woman, operating a fashion design house, many of her creations echoing the Klimt designs we know so well.
For most of his adult life Klimt spent summers at Attersee with Emilie Floge painting the landscape. Less well known than his portraits and murals the landscapes show the painterly talent of the artist.
Some of Klimt’s portraits have been in the news in recent years. Many were portraits of wealthy Jewish women painted in Vienna, and belonging to families who were still living in splendor in Vienna prior to the Second World War. When families fled, forced to leave their possessions behind, some of these paintings ended up in the hands of the Nazis. Now, at the centre of court cases families have fought to have these – now extremely valuable – paintings returned. Klimt was also involved in design work with the Secessionist designer Josef Hoffmann and the Weiner Werkstatte known for their geometric design in the early 1900’s, a departure from the Victorian style of an earlier generation. Those who could afford to embraced, both the art of Klimt and his circle, and the interior design and furniture of the Weiner Werkstatte.
The Weiner Werkstatte was planned over a dinner, set with Sevres china and French silverware, by a group of young artists and designers influenced by the work that Charles Rennie Macintosh was producing in Great Britain, as the world moved from the ornate Victorian to simpler geometric design.
The Painted Kiss gives us a portrait of Gustav Klimt, the man and the artist, his story told from the point of view of Emilie Floge, the woman who knew him best.