Gustav Klimt -- The Magic of Line by Marian Bisanz-Prakken, Getty Museum '12, in oversized format on glossy stock, $49.95, 304 pages, 225 color illustrations, ASIN #1606061119. Scores of artist's drawings on paper and dozens of paintings in color.
So intense is the use of color, particularly gold, and the intermixture of colors in his paintings that a layperson could easily overlook the working drawings of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. But it's those very drawings that spring to the fore of an exhibition organized by the Albertina Museum in Vienna, which holds "one of the most extensive and representative groups of Klimt drawings in the world...."
How better to have celebrated the 150th anniversary of Klimt's birth than to showcase "the centrality of drawing to Klimt's artistic enterprise," in the words of Albertina's curator Marian Bisanz-Prakken, who organized the exhibition shown at the Albertina for three months last spring and at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles last summer. But while the exhibition is finished, Bisanz-Prakken's lavishly-illustrated volume remains for art lovers ranging from museum curators to those with a general interest in art.
The thrust of the Albertina's exhibition, in the words of the curator, is to stress that "His art cannot be understood without carefully considering the drawings, which are characterized by an unsurpassed mastery of line, in all the phases of his artistic development -- from Historicism, through Stilkunst around 1900, the Golden Period, and up to his freer late work. If one phase of his work stands out to the general viewer, it would be Klimt's "study of the human figure -- above all female -- (which) lies at the artist's activity as a draftsman, which he practiced assidously."
"Using purely linear means," writes Bisanz-Prakken, "the artist internalizes the mood and essence of his figures and thus goes far beyond the purely purpose-oriented function of the studies." One particularly striking section of the work, towards the end of his life, is his study of erotic nudes in 1912--1913, including women in the act of masturbation. "With his marked instinct for the nuances of female eroticism," the author writes, "Kliimt recorded the actions and reactions of women succumbing to their intimate activity before his eyes."
Marian Bisanz-Prakken is curator at the Albertina Museum, Vina, and the reigning expert on Klimt drawings.