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Klimt’s portrait of a woman: the Story of the most wanted painting found behind the ivy

The famous painting “Portrait of a woman” by the Austrian art Nouveau master Gustav Klimt was discovered 23 years after its theft. The work was created by the artist in the last years of his life and is reportedly worth about $ 66 million. The painting was stolen in 1997 and was included in the list of the most wanted art objects in Italy.

About the artist
Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) was a brilliant Austrian symbolist painter and one of the most prominent members of the Viennese art Nouveau movement (Vienna secession). Klimt’s works, known for their complex, overtly sensual paintings and frescoes, cover themes of rebirth, love and death. Klimt’s eclectic range of influences included Egyptian, classical Greek, Byzantine, and medieval styles. Klimt’s considerable artistic legacy still resonates in contemporary art.

Interesting facts about Klimt

– Klimt was first recognized as a decorative artist of historical scenes and figures (realized many orders for the decoration of public buildings).

– Klimt was one of the most significant founders of the Vienna secession in 1897, receiving the post of the first President of the organization. His creative power and status as the most famous modernist artist of his time contributed to both the secession’s early success and its rapid decline (when Klimt left the movement in 1905).

– Although Klimt’s art is now widely popular, it was neglected for most of the twentieth century. His public works provoked a storm of negativity, he was charged with obscenity of his paintings.
– Despite his fame and mentoring of young artists (Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka), Klimt had no direct followers. His work was considered very personal and exceptional, and is considered so to this day.

“Portrait of a woman»
The work “Portrait of a woman” dates from 1916-17 and depicts a young female figure with dark hair and rosy cheeks on a green background, painted in a lively expressionist style.
The extraordinary style comes from the peculiarities of the artist’s own biography. His life was filled with a constant heartbeat: the death of his son, his lover, and the rapid death of his father and brother, which later led his mother and sister to rapid depression. Indeed, there was no place for calm in Klimt’s life, which was also evident in his work.

Gustav Klimt painted many women, on the one hand, women from the upper classes, and on the other – young girls from the lower class. The painting was part of a series of female portraits that Klimt painted in the last few years of his life, some of which were never completed.
Originally purchased in 1925 by the Galleria Ricci Oddi in the Northern Italian city of Piacenza, the painting went missing in February 1997 while preparing for an exhibition where this portrait was to be presented as the star of the show. The frame was found dumped on the roof.

The painting was stolen 23 years ago and it seemed that attempts to find the canvas worth 66 million dollars were futile… This Klimt painting is too well-known to try to sell it on the black market — the robbery was most likely made “to order”. But fate smiled on Klimt’s fans: the painting was found while working as a gardener who decided to clear overgrown ivy from the wall of the gallery of modern art in Piacenza, in Northern Italy. In December 2019, a bag containing the missing painting was found from a recess in the outer wall of the gallery. Good job, though!

Secret history

What was unusual about “Portrait of a woman”? 10 months before its theft, an art student Claudia Maga made a surprising conclusion: it turned out that the portrait was drawn on top of another painting by Klimt “Portrait of a young girl” (in a hat and scarf), which disappeared in 1917. So, then, in the 90s, Magda enlarged the images and superimposed them one on another: the poses and General outlines completely coincided! The student shared her discovery with the gallery’s Director, Fernando Arisi. He organized x-ray tests. And the result confirmed the student’s guess. The original painting was dedicated to a young girl from Vienna, with whom Klimt was in love. But after the sudden death of the heroine, the artist decided to paint the portrait to forget the pain of death.

Composition and palette of the portrait

The artwork is saturated with shades of blue and green. The background is covered with a green moss shade, with small gradations of light and dark colors. A warmer blue color is used in the halo around the heroine’s face to emphasize the Muse’s gaze when she looks at the viewer. “Portrait of a woman” depicts a woman in a slightly tilted position. This pose allowed the artist to emphasize the elegance and shape of the figure. The classic highlight of Klimt is the pink cheek on the faces of the heroines (this detail adds liveliness and brightness to the faded palette). The woman’s rounded brows seem to hug her eyes. The woman’s lips are painted in blood-red lipstick, revealing her small mouth and a glimpse of teeth. An interesting accent on the woman’s face is a black mole located under her eye (it adds to the heroine’s coquetry). The woman is dressed in a patterned white dress with a high neck. The flowers on the dress look great with the shade of the heroine’s lipstick and match the color of her bottomless eyes.

Thus, Gustav Klimt managed to create an unsurpassed portrait of a woman, hiding a secret portrait of his beloved. The greatest modernist of his time, the incredible symbolist Gustav Klimt left us a beautiful legacy of 230 paintings that continue to have a significant impact on the younger generation of artists and schools.

Recently, a lot of noise was made by Gustav Klimt’s landscapes, which are known only to real connoisseurs of his work.

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