Painting Human Desire For Happiness – Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze

Zuzanna Stańska 6 June 2017 min Read

When we think of Gustav Klimt we see beautiful women portraits, sensual and dangerous compositions, gold and decorative motifs. But if you have ever been to the famous building of Vienna Secession building (which is now a gallery of contemporary art) you can also think of a huge gorilla in a turban. [caption id="attachment_5046" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902 (detail), Secession Building, Vienna, Austria[/caption] The gorilla is not an animal - it is a mythological giant, Typhoeus. He is a part of a large frieze, called the Beethoven Frieze. It was painted in 1902 for the 14th Vienna Secessionist exhibition in celebration of the composer, and featured a monumental polychrome sculpture by Max Klinger. Based on Richard Wagner's interpretation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, it marks the beginning of Klimt's "golden period". Meant for the exhibition only, the frieze was painted directly on the walls with light materials. It's large, standing at 7 feet high with a width of 112 feet. The entire work weighs four tons. [caption id="attachment_5051" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Installation Team for Beethoven Freize Klimt Beethoven Frieze Installation Team for Beethoven Frieze. It's easy to spot Gustav![/caption] The exhibition was a sublime realisation of the Gesamtkunstwerk in which the different arts – architecture, painting, sculpture and music – were united under a common theme. [caption id="attachment_5043" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze The Secession building in Vienna, 1898 The Secession building in Vienna, 1898[/caption] After the exhibition the painting was preserved, and in 1915 it was sold to a Jewish industrialist, August Lederer. In 1938, much of Mr. Lederer's art collection, including the frieze, was seized by the Nazis but it came back to it's place in 1986. In this horrible times it was a stroke of luck that it survived. Look how the Secession building looked like in 1945: [caption id="attachment_5044" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze Secession building in Vienna in 1945 Secession building in Vienna in 1945[/caption] But coming back to the Frieze. What is it about? Of course, it's about music. It illustrates the human desire for happiness in a suffering and tempestuous world in which one contends not only with external evil forces but also with internal weaknesses. The viewer follows this journey of discovery in a stunning visual and linear fashion. It begins gently with the floating female Genii searching the Earth [caption id="attachment_5047" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze Gustav Klimt, Beethovenfries (Detail): Poesie Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902 (detail): Poesie, Secession Building, Vienna, Austria[/caption] but soon follows the dark, sinister-looking storm-wind giant, Typhoeus, his three Gorgon daughters and images representing sickness, madness, death, lust and wantonness above and to the right. [caption id="attachment_5048" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze the-hostile-forces-the-beethoven-frieze-klimt-1902 Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902 (detail), Secession Building, Vienna, Austria[/caption] Thence appears the knight in shining armour who offers hope due to his own ambition and sympathy for the pleading, suffering humans. The journey ends in the discovery of joy by means of the arts and contentment is represented in the close embrace of a kiss. [caption id="attachment_5049" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902 (detail), Secession Building, Vienna, Austria[/caption] Thus, the frieze expounds psychological human yearning, ultimately satisfied through individual and communal searching and the beauty of the arts coupled with love and companionship. [caption id="attachment_5050" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Klimt Beethoven Frieze Gustav Klimt, Beethoven Frieze, 1902, Secession Building, Vienna, Austria[/caption]

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