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Die Musik by Gustav Klimt

Music, colour and allegories in Die Musik I by Gustav Klimt

Cristina Mura

Musician
4th February 2021

The world of art history holds a fascination and attraction for those who, like me, cannot stop discovering more and more new - and lesser-known - works by famous painters. In fact, there are some of their works, starting from simple drafts, that deserve our interest just like the one I will present to you in this article. Obviously, this research work always comes after a careful study of the best-known paintings, those that characterise the artist in question and represent him in the eyes of the world.

Here is the work 'Die Musik I' by Gustav Klimt.


Gustav Klimt: life

Gustav Klimt was an Austrian painter and one of the most significant artists of the Viennese Secession.


Klimt was born in 1862 in a suburb of Vienna, the second of seven siblings: his father, Ernst Klimt, was a goldsmith and his mother, Anna Finster, was an educated woman and opera singer. After attending primary school, Klimt was admitted to the Austrian School of Arts and Crafts (Kunstgewerbeschule) where he studied applied art until 1883.


He was a founding member and key president of the Vienna Secession in 1897 and its magazine Ver Sacrum. Their symbol was Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and the arts. The aims of the Vienna Secession were to provide a platform for exhibiting unconventional young artists and to attract the best foreign artists to Vienna. The association was aimed at all types of artists, including realists, naturalists and abstracts.


"The symbol of Secessionism was Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and good causes, whom Klimt depicted in one of his masterpieces."

Two important phases can be distinguished during Klimt's life:Two important phases can be distinguished during Klimt's life:


Klimt's "golden" or "golden" period, marked by the dominance of gold, the marked two-dimensionality, the use of meaningful symbolism and the prevalence of female figures. Numerous works by the Viennese artist belong to the Golden Age: 'The Three Ages of Woman' (1905), 'Danae' (1907-1908) and 'The Tree of Life' (1905-1909).


The 'mature period' (or 'third Klimt phase', also known as the 'flowering period') The artist's 'mature period' (or 'third Klimtian phase', also known as the 'flowering period') came after the drafting of 'Judith II', during which Klimt went through a period of existential and artistic crisis: he began to question the legitimacy of his own art, especially when he came into contact with the work of artists such as Van Gogh and Matisse. Stylistically, it is characterised by the fusion of these influences and the abandonment of the splendour of gold and elegant Art Nouveau lines.


Klimt in the Palais DumbaKlimt in the Palais Dumba

Here comes the client of the work in question: the liberal industrialist Nicolaus Dumba, who represented a characteristic Viennese bourgeoisie of the late 19th century. The exuberant splendour of his palace on Vienna's Ringstrasse and his rich collection of works of art and antiques testify to a self-confident upper middle class that had turned towards the aristocratic lifestyle.


As a Greek tycoon and patron of the arts, Nikolaus Dumba commissioned Hans Makart to furnish his studio and later also commissioned Franz Matsch to work on the dining room. Gustav Klimt was responsible for the design and decoration of the music room in his palace. He created two works: 'Music' and 'Schubert at the Piano'.


"Unfortunately, both works were burnt in 1945 in Immendorf Castle and only the two drafts have survived."

Die Musik I

Inside the Palais Dumba, "Die Musik" - or "The Music" - was intended for the upper part of the door of the music room, custom-made, conceived as an over door. It is one of Klimt's earliest paintings and was painted in the Jugendstil or early Art Nouveau style that was so popular at the end of the 19th century.


It is therefore a draft of what would later be destined for the palace, known as "Die Musik II".It is therefore a draft of what would later be destined for the palace, known as "Die Musik II".


"Die Musik is an allegorical representation of Music."

The central figure is a woman, on the left, in the act of playing a golden lyre (kithara). Her figure is given in profile and as a half-length and stands in front of an ochre parapet on which two ancient sculptures can be seen.


On his right is a sphinx (with the body of a lion and the head of a woman), a figure belonging to Egyptian mythology, which unites the intellectual world (the human part) and the instinctive world (the animal part).


At its opposite is the mask of Silenus, son of the god Pan. He is also known as the guardian of Dionysus, the one with the primordial and wild figure. It is no coincidence that the two mythological figures are compared.


Behind the girl are small luminous spheres floating in the air: these are the leaves of the dandelion plant, symbols of knowledge and new ideas, as they take flight at the slightest gust of wind and spread everywhere.


The central theme of the opera is Music, echoing the philosophical ideas of Schopenhauer, Nietzche and the composer Richard Wagner, who considered it to be "the artistic form superior to all others, since it is the only one that can convey certain messages without the use of words or images.


"Music was considered the superior artistic form to all others."

Allegories, to interpret

Typical of Klimt's paintings, the work was decorative and allegorical: he interpreted many influences in his paintings, including classical Greek, Minoan and Egyptian mythology.


Let's take a closer look at the symbols in this work...


"The lyre is a symbol of Music."

This is an invitation to freedom of expression, which is fundamental for an artist but above all for the human being, who has the right to express and give voice to his most intimate expressiveness.


"The dandelions in the centre denote the spread of new ideas."

Art as a vehicle of novelty, a focus of new thoughts, essentiality for man.


"The sphinx is a symbol of artistic freedom."

Personally, I discovered the work I just described almost by chance. Like all of Klimt's style, I was so struck by his line, his choice of colours and certainly his theme (!), as well as his story...


Indeed, it is so shocking to realise how much a painter, who deals in visual art, manages to create a parallel universe that hides behind his works and that we the viewers have to look for through observation and subsequent reflection. Art is all around us at all times, it is inside us and just waiting to be released.


I conclude by quoting Gustav Klimt himself:


"No area of life is so small and insignificant that it offers no room for artistic aspirations."
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