Gustav Klimt The Three Ages of Woman 1905

Gustav Klimt
The Three Ages of Woman 1905
Courtesy Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Rome

The World in Female Form

Vienna at the turn of the century was a city languid and exalted. Sigmund Freud's theories positing sexuality as a liberating force were highly influential, contributing to an overarching atmosphere of eroticism. Against this backdrop Klimt put the female form centre-stage, oscillating between the extremes of woman as immaculate virgin and sinful seductress.

Judith II (Salome) 1909 presents woman as femme fatale, here crouched in heightened sensuality. In Adam and Eve 1917-8 the female figure is cast in the dominant role, her feet hidden by anemones symbolising fertility. In The Three Ages of Life 1905 the three female figures represent the cycle of life, a recurring theme in Klimt's work, expressed through the child, the mother, and the aging body.

While Klimt's paintings create ambitious allegorical compositions around the representation of the female figure, his drawings, on view in the next gallery, record the artist's private investigation and explicit celebration of female sexuality. Many are studies for paintings which derive much of their impact from the exuberant range and obsessive thoroughness of Klimt's drawn preparations.

Lucian's Dialogues of the Courtesans, published in 1907, features some of Klimt's earliest surviving drawings of half-clothed models, some absorbed in auto-erotic reverie. A presentation of such drawings in 1910 led to public denunciations of Klimt as a 'pornographer', contributing to his resolve to withdraw from exhibiting publicly. Klimt's redoubled commitment to an emphatically private and all the more uninhibited exploration of the expressive possibilities of the female nude would eventually lead him to the radical stylistic transformation of his late drawings. Here, the continuity of bodily mass, form and contour is increasingly dissolved.

Works on display

Gustav KlimtAdam and Eve1917–18 Gustav KlimtDie Hetärengespräche des Lukian1907 Gustav KlimtDie Hetärengespräche des Lukian. German Translation by Franz Blei, with fifteen drawings by Gustav Klimt.Published by Julius Zeitler, Leipzig, 19071907 Gustav KlimtGerman Translation by Franz Blei; with fifteen drawings by Gustav Klimt. Published by Julius Zeitler, Leipzig, 19071907 Gustav Klimt German Translation by Franz Blei; with fifteen drawings by Gustav Klimt. Published by Julius Zeitler, Leipzig, 1907 1907 Gustav KlimtHalf-length Nude Lying on Sidecirca 1904 Gustav KlimtJudith II1909 Gustav KlimtLovers1907-1908 Gustav KlimtPortrait of a Woman's Face1917-18 Gustav KlimtReclining Half Length Nude1912-1913 Gustav KlimtReclining Half-Length Nude Facing Right1912-1913 Gustav KlimtReclining Lovers facing RightGustav KlimtReclining Nude facing Left1916-1917 Gustav KlimtReclining Womancirca 1913 Gustav KlimtRia Munk on her Deathbed1912 Gustav KlimtSeated Half Length Nude Facing Left1904-1905 Gustav KlimtStanding Figure (Study for "Judith")circa 1908 Gustav KlimtStudy for 'The Bride'1917-1918 Gustav KlimtThe Three Ages of Woman1905 Gustav KlimtThree Standing Female Nudes1916-1917 Gustav KlimtStudy for Hope Icirca 1903 Gustav KlimtSeated Woman with Legs Spread1916-1917