Introduction

Portrait of Eugenia Primavesi c. 1913-14

Gustav Klimt
Portrait of Eugenia Primavesi c.1913–14

Private collection

Gustav Klimt: Painting, Design and Modern Life in Vienna 1900 explores the relationship between Gustav Klimt (1862–1918) as leader of the Viennese Secession and the products and philosophy of the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshop) – a highpoint of twentieth-century architecture and design.

Klimt played a critical role in the foundation, in 1897, and leadership of the Viennese Secession, a progressive group of artists and artisans driven by a desire for innovation and renewal. The philosophy of the Secession embraced not only art but also architecture and design that included the simple furniture and dazzling decorative art objects of the Wiener Werkstätte. They pursued the ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) aspiring to a synthesis of all the arts as championed by the composer Richard Wagner (1813 to 1883).

The architect and designer Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956), Klimt’s close friend and collaborator, and a co-founder of the Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte, created extravagant interiors for many of the painter’s most loyal patrons and collectors in their search for identity. Charting Klimt’s engagement with both the Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte, the exhibition therefore also presents a history of patronage and collecting in the cultural hothouse that was Vienna before the First World War.

Across two floors of the gallery, paintings and drawings by Klimt are shown in settings that approximate their original presentation as integral to the totally designed environment. Paintings are reunited with the furniture and design objects they originally accompanied. What emerges is a fascinating world of both luxurious opulence and refined simplicity.