Klimt’s studio opens its doors
Renovated space, reconstructed using original photos, includes artist’s bath and exact copy of his carpet
By Roger Bevan. Conservation, Issue 239, October 2012
Published online: 28 September 2012
Since its rediscovery in 1998, the garden studio on the outskirts of Vienna that Gustav Klimt occupied from 1912 until his death in 1918 has presented critics and conservators with a conundrum. Stripped of its contents and entombed within the Neo-Baroque villa that was built around and above it in 1923, its appearance and atmosphere have been compromised, and yet it remains the only surviving property to be associated with the lifestyle and working practice of the city’s greatest artist. Klimt abandoned his previous studio to real-estate development and his birthplace was demolished in 1966.
The Gustav Klimt Memorial Society was formed in 1999 to ensure the studio’s preservation. It succeeded in persuading the government to grant listed status to the property in 2001 and to pledge €2m to finance its renovation. That task has now been completed and the studio, still encased in its Neo-Baroque shell, was due to open on 30 September, as we went to press. (A plan to peel away the villa to expose the hidden studio was floated by Agnes Husslein when she was appointed director of the Galerie Belvedere in 2007, but it was not pursued.)
Fortunately, the studio and its surrounding gardens are immaculately documented in the form of written descriptions by clients or close associates of the artist, including Egon Schiele, who made an impassioned plea for the studio’s preservation. There are also three vintage photographs by Moritz Nähr, who donated his archive to the Austrian National Library in 1943. One photograph, dating from 1915, shows a garden view of the south side of the studio, surrounded by flowering trees and shrubs. The other photographs—one each of the reception room and the painting studio, taken shortly before or immediately after the artist’s death—are the prime evidence for the present reconstruction. When this visual documentation is examined in conjunction with the written reports, a remarkably complete picture of Klimt’s modus operandi and art collection emerges.
The main studio block comprised seven rooms with two separate entrances, one for clientele and the other reserved for the roster of models kept on call by the artist. A separate block housed a bathroom and a kitchen.
The entrance hall led to two smaller rooms containing a pair of skeletons (these featured in several compositions that were reworked in a more expressive style by the artist in his new studio, including Death and Life, 1910/15, now in the Leopold Collection) and a large wardrobe for his extensive collection of Oriental fabrics, which Klimt would drape around his sitters or spread across the backgrounds of his pictures. The reception room contained an eclectic collection of objects: two Chinese paintings, Japanese woodblock prints, a Samurai suit of armour, African sculptures and a suite of furniture designed by Joseph Hoffmann, including a large cabinet (in which Klimt housed his Asian art library), a writing table and chair, and a ceiling lamp. Wall scrapings taken during the restoration of this room reveal that Hoffmann had decorated it with pale grey paint. Other rooms were given a standard cream coat. A small table and two high-back chairs, also designed by Hoffmann, belonged in the painting studio, where a pair of low African stools afforded an eye-level view of models spread across the artist’s bed. Nähr’s photograph of this room includes easels on which The Lady with a Fan and the unfinished work The Bride, both of which date to 1917, were displayed.
With the exception of the cabinet of textiles that was inherited by Klimt’s companion, Emilie Flöge, and destroyed in her apartment in Vienna shortly before the end of the Second World War, virtually all this material survives—but it lies outside the reach of Eduard Neversal, the architect and set designer who is responsible for stocking the studio’s empty rooms. The suite of furniture by Hoffmann, for example, belongs to the Viennese lawyer Ernst Ploil and is not available for this project.
As a consequence, full-scale photographic reproductions of the paintings and prints have been commissioned and copies of the furniture have been constructed. Backhausen, the manufacturer responsible for weaving the original Glockenblume carpet designed by Hoffmann for the studio’s reception room, has created an exact copy based on a surviving sample from its archives.
In a promising development that might encourage other collectors to participate, one of the two African stools is on long-term loan from a private source. Klimt’s bath, an unexpected rediscovery, will be situated in one of the rooms where his models would have waited for the master’s instructions. There is a selection of period costumes reflecting the fashions of Klimt’s times, and facsimile drawings of models and clients, supplied by the Leopold Collection, recall the trove of sheets that was scattered on the floor when the artist held court in his garden studio.
Gustav Klimt: the Last Studio, Feldmühlgasse 11/15a, 1130 Vienna, www.klimtvilla.at
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