Calling the public: why Klimt's "Pictures for the University" caused a storm of indignation among his contemporaries
Calling the public: why Klimt's "Pictures for the University" caused a storm of indignation among his contemporaries
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Gustav Klimt. Medicine. The central figure is Hygieia. Fragment

99 years ago, one of the greatest painters of the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the founder of European Art Nouveau, passed away Gustav Klimt… Now his paintings are among the ten most expensive in the world, and during his lifetime the artist was accused of perverse tastes and obscenity. Loud scandal erupted around the series "Pictures for the University" (or "Faculty Paintings") - after Klimt completed the order, 87 professors signed a petition to ban these works and cancel the order.

Famous Austrian artist Gustav Klimt

At the end of the nineteenth century. Gustav Klimt was an extremely popular painter in Vienna and the leader of the Austrian avant-garde: in 1897 he headed the Vienna Secession, a group of painters who opposed the academic tradition. In 1894, he was offered to design the University of Vienna: the artist had to paint 3 canvases that were supposed to decorate the ceiling of the large assembly hall of the main building of the University of Vienna.

G. Klimt. Philosophy. Photo

In 1900, at the Secession exhibition, Klimt presented his first work - "Philosophy", after which a scandal erupted. 87 professors signed a letter sent to the Ministry of Education, where they accused the artist of “expressing obscure ideas using vague forms” and demanded that the order be taken away from him. It is interesting that in the same year the painting "Philosophy" was awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris.

G. Klimt. Medicine. Copies

In 1903, Klimt presented to the public two more unfinished works of the same series - "Medicine" and "Jurisprudence", which again provoked a scandal. First, critics accused the artist of violating the laws of color and composition in these works. Secondly, pundits perceived the depicted as a challenge to the prevailing ideas about science and knowledge. Instead of proclaiming the triumph of reason in Philosophy, Klimt captured the powerlessness of man before fate, and in Medicine, instead of glorifying science, the power of disease and the triumph of death. Hygieia - the goddess of health - stands with her back to all of humanity, and more resembles not an allegory of a learned enlightenment, but femme fatale from other paintings by Klimt.

G. Klimt. Medicine. Photo

The artist himself in the catalog gave the following explanations to the painting "Philosophy": "On the left - a group of figures: the Beginning of Life, Maturity and Withering. On the right is a ball representing a mystery. An illuminated figure appears below: Knowledge. " The people in this picture seem to be floating limply somewhere, obeying the flow of life and fate. The artist portrayed a person as a slave to his nature, obsessed with pain and powerless before death. Scientists expected to receive life-affirming works about the triumph of light and reason, but instead they saw the fear of death, the impotence of science in front of the inevitable forces of Doom and the victory of darkness over all living things.

G. Klimt. Jurisprudence. Photo

Klimt, being under the influence of the ideas of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, portrayed the confusion and fear of modern man before Schopenhauer's "world as desire, as a blind force that is born, loves and dies in the eternal cycle." At the same time, the themes of illness, old age and death were not forbidden for the artist - he often depicted them in all their disgrace, for which he was accused of cynicism. Both "Medicine" and "Jurisprudence" were branded as ugliness, "excessive perversity" and called pornographic.

An artist whose paintings often provoked a scandal in society

However, this is not the first time Klimt has heard such accusations against him. They said that his paintings could illustrate the work of Freud, that the women depicted by him looked as if they wanted to castrate men, that female beauty, as Klimt sees it, would destroy the whole world, and men in the first place. He was asked: "Judging by your paintings, are you convinced that all evil comes from women and their unbridled sexuality?"

Gustav Klimt

The scandal caused by the "obscene" pictures was discussed even in the Parliament. Only one scientist spoke up in defense of Klimt - Franz von Wickhoff, professor of art history at the University of Vienna, who even dedicated his lecture on the topic "What's ugly?" To this issue. The artist considered the only way out to return the advance payment to the university, and take the paintings for himself. He later sold the "university series" to private collectors.

Famous Austrian artist Gustav Klimt

Unfortunately, during the Second World War, the castle in Austria, which contained all the "Paintings for the University", was burned by the Nazis. And we can only judge these works by Klimt by a few low-quality black-and-white photographs and copies of paintings.

G. Klimt. Paintings for the university. Photo

One of the most expensive paintings by Klimt also had unusual fate: "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer".

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