This catalogue, published in 2001, accompanies the first exhibition devoted to Klimt in North America which was held at the National Gallery of Canada. There are 4 essays which are soundly based on recent scholarship and presented in a manner suitable for a general audience. Colin R. Bailey addresses "Prolegomena: A Klimt for the Twenty-first Century"; Peter Vergo "Between Modernism and Tradition: The Importance of Klimt's Murals and Figure Painting"; Emily Braun "Klimtomania" and Jane Kallir "'High and `Low' in Imperial Vienna: Gustav Klimt and the Applied Arts".
The catalogue of 36 full colour plates has been written by John Collins and, following an essay on "Gustav Klimt's Drawings" by Marian Bisanz-Prakken, 125 works are presented; there are 205 figures in colour and black and white. Given the loss of so many of the artist's major works, the inclusion of a number of contemporary photographs is especially welcome. There is an illustrated Chronology, a comprehensive Bibliography and Index. The quality of colour reproduction and presentation is all that one would expect from an activity linking a leading national gallery and an experienced art publisher.
Klimt was one of the few artists able to introduce innovations in both the fine- and the applied arts. The exhibition focused on Klimt's artistic lifetime independently of his role in the Wiener Werkstatte or the Seccession. Over 35 years of the artist's development are considered with the works on show representing many of his most important paintings, given that many of the golden portraits are too fragile to transport, that consideration of his "Beethoven Frieze" must be based upon preparatory drawings and photographs, and - most distressing of all - that a number of his finest works were destroyed in the final days of World War II whilst being held, for safe-keeping, in Schloss Immendorff including the infamous paintings of "Philosophy", "Medicine" and "Jurisprudence" of 1894-1903, intended for the ceiling of the great hall of Vienna University.
Vergo suggests that entangling the complex influences on the artist is made even more difficult by the artist's extreme reticence about these matters and also about the process he adopted in his painting; in regard to the latter, much information is to be gained from consideration of his last work, "The Bride" of 1917-18, which was left uncompleted at his death. Klimt's messages in his University paintings are uniformly gloomy despite the expectations of this academic commission and, for example, the advances of the time in science and medicine, and the artist's familiarity with the German philosophers. It is suggested that the latter may derive from Klimt's acceptance of the anti-science positions adopted by Schopenhauer and Nietsche. In contrast, the message of the "Beethoven Frieze", from 1902, is optimistic, celebrating the ability of the arts to raise mankind from the misery of life. Many motifs recur in Klimt's works and are found in many of his drawings; however, the relationship between these and his finished paintings have confused many art historians.
Whilst the artist was the focus of ecstatic admiration and deepest abuse in Vienna, he was comparatively little known or regarded beyond the German-speaking world. Braun considers that this was partly due to his absence from many important exhibitions, because his work was widely considered decadent and originating from a damaged and disordered mind, because his pessimism opposed the joyfulness of the French-inspired Art Nouveau movement and because of concerns over the rise of German power and influence, and the stultifying atmosphere of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its subjugated national movements. Klimt was, however, better known in Italy, at least until the rise of the Futurists, with their attention directed towards powerful machines rather than beautiful women.
Very perceptively, Kallir uses the University paintings, the "Beethoven Frieze" and the "Stoclet Frieze", of 1905-11, to demonstrate the three phases of Klimt's development, from "conventional" oil painting through mural inlaid with gold and stones, to mosaic corresponding to his artistic journey from public patronage to Seccession to Wiener Werkstatte and its private patronage. This development starts with art viewable by all and ends in art viewable by the few (and the very rich).
The quality and number of the illustrations, the complementarity and scholarship of the essays and the clarity of the presentation are exemplary. The combination of a very experienced art publishing house and a national art gallery is the ideal combination to deliver an excellent catalogue at a reasonable price. I have read a number of catalogues produced by galleries whose presentation is disappointing whilst books about an individual artist generally fail to adequately present recent scholarship. This volume would satisfy all but those requiring the detail of a biography.