Linear sketches have a unique fascination. They are one of the earliest expressions of humans beings and their history goes back to our cave dwelling ancestors and it bursts forth daily in the drawings of very young children.
Gustav Klimt had an almost magical ability to communicate his vision with a few signs. Leader of the progressive painters in Vienna, by 1900, he was internationally famous.
The accompanying drawing of Frau Adele Bloch-Bauer shows how originality enhanced his skill. Adept in use of the language of the line, Klimt suggests both volume and space in quick, fluent curves, contrasting with the lovely stillness of the relaxed head and shoulder. Filaments ripple gaily downward, pure and music with embellishments of runs, pauses, recommencements, crossings, flourishes. The entire sketch of undulating rhythm is in the grand manner.
Klimt had no need to delineate details; he was able to create a sitter's personality by rapidly observing the essential, most individualizing, traits -- synthesizing rather than describing. Here, under a voluminous robe, the body's roundness and position are suggested only. The limp, delicate hands are actually unformed. He barely hinted at the face, depicting the mouth with a triangle and leaving eyes without pupils. Yet, the impression received is of a particular woman, pleasantly weary, immersed in a languid faraway dream.
This indolence and elegance reflected the rich, cosmopolitan, sophisticated Vienna of the 19th century, the capital of the venerable Hapsburg empire which for many years governed a great part of Europe. It was Klimt's home. It shaped him. In this huge congeries of peoples of various origins and tongues, one crisis followed another. As distracting alternatives, the Establishment fostered constant festivities: ballets, concerts, theater, opera, ballroom dancing.
Viennese loved Mozart's The Magic Flute,m Mahler's symphonies, and went mad over the Strauss waltzes. Until late in the morning, huge halls rocked as graceful couples whirled and swayed in three-quarter time. Women were, more than ever, decorative, alluring, and majestic. Klimt was exhilarated by the life of the time, and his art vibrated in accord with the current poetry and music.
Being Austrian, with the habit of doing about as he pleased, he felt no obligation to follow rules of any of the fin-de-sieclem groups, the Impressionists, Neo-Impressionists, the Symbolists of France, the pre-Raphaelites of England, or even the Jugenstil of Germany. He made the acquaintance of these, plus art of the African, Japanese, Mycenean, and Byzantine civilizations. Then he developed his own specifically Austrian style. In it can be detected the mysterious cannotation of the arabesque, the uncanny pathos of the transalpine races, and a will to the supra-national striving already present throughout Europe: abstraction.
In 1897 Klimt and a number of like-minded young men withdrew from the staid Artists' Association of Vienna, dedicated to neo-baroque, historical pomposities and weak landscapes. They formed the opposition movement "Secession," with Klimt the first president. Still seen on the facade of their building is the inscription "To time, its art; to art, its freedom," a slogan first used in defense of Klimt's innovations and heard through the years.
He drew constantly, tirelessly; the graphics alone cover several thousand sheets, almost all in the Albertina at Vienna (officially, the Graphische Sammlung Albertina). Their mastery is acknowledged without reservation in the art world.
Klimt painted several portraits of the fashionable, distinguished Frau Bloch-Bauer, each one dated at least seven years later than our drawing. this and many of the other sketches are judged to be independent objects of art rather than preparations for paintings. Their existence and charm come from the pleasure the artist had in creating them.
A major liberator of art, he prepared the way for the free-thinking movements that characterize the century. Modern trends have so revived interest in his work that at present Gustav Klimt is considered a contemporary.