From 1894 onwards, the innocent and academic style of Klimt gives way to a more emotionally intense, violent and erotic art. This coincides with rampant changes and challenges in Viennese culture, specifically the emergence of Dionysian dramatic theater and the birth of psychoanalysis. It is interesting to note how profoundly both Freud and Klimt were influenced by the influx of Greek drama at the Burgtheater. Ripping off the mask of assumed rationality and perpetual "progress", both laid bare the disturbing subconscious drives that threaten to consume-- and destroy-- civilization. Both Freud and Klimt hold Eros ( the life instinct) and Tod (the death instinct) in perpetual tension and use water as a symbol of the unconscious depths.
In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to create a series of three paintings to decorate the Great Hall of the University of Vienna. ostensibly to celebrate the achievements of higher education. As the images emerged, however, they were anything but a celebration of the "triumph of rationality" and "light overcoming darkness". Instead, Jurisprudence, Philosophy and Medicine (tragically destroyed in WWII by the Nazis) created a scandal and were deemed "pornographic" for their vivid and cynical perspective on the darkness of their vision, a world almost consumed by fear, terror, disease and despair.
Klimt marched into the University with a pistol threatened to shoot the paintings if they would not be returned to him. With the help of a patron, he bought the paintings back. The difficulties he had with censorship led Klimt to found the Secessionist movement with its emphasis on Art as Truth . Auguste Rodin, the Parisian sculptor, was a supporter. Klimt created the icon of Pallas Athena (above) as a figure meant to embody the search for wisdom and truth. In her hands she holds a red haired woman who becomes the symbol of Naked Truth. His Nuda Verita (1899) defined his bid to further shake up the establishment. In 1899, this image became the poster for the movement, holding the mirror of truth, with a quotation by Schiller above, "If you cannot please everyone with your deeds and your art, please a few. To please many is bad."
Recommended reading: Eric Kandel, The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present
Gustav Mahler is deeply connected with Gustav Klimt in more ways than their first name and the fact that they each found fame, notoriety and professional frustration within the establishment of Vienna. Mahler's wife, Alma Schindler, received her first kiss from Klimt and was likely the muse for his painting Musik. Mahler himself conducted the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for the opening of the Secessionist Exhibit where Klimt's Beethoven Frieze was unveiled. Both are also connected through Freud: the psychiatrist was consulted by both Gustav Mahler (about his wife' infidelities) and by Emilie Floge, Klimt's companion and muse whom we will turn to next week in greater details. Just try to imagine those two consultations !
Mahler on the Couch (trailer above) is a recreation of Freud's meeting with Mahler- available on Netflix.. Also connected to today's lecture are Salome(with Al Pacino and Jessica Chastain); Monuments Men (with George CLooney and Matt Damon) and Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren