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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Painted Kiss is a truly exquisite novel and a most impressive debut by author Elizabeth Hickey. While I do read a good bit of historical fiction, most of what I read is built around historical events; this novel, though, is intensely personal, the imagined story of a most unusual relationship between artist Gustav Klimt and the younger Emilie Floge (who became a successful fashion designer in Vienna). The cover art depicts Klimt's 1902 portrait of Emilie, and a number of Klimt's best-known artistic creations inform the narrative of this wonderfully lush work of modern literature. It is in some ways a disturbing read, as the relationship under the microscope is far from ideal, and the reader cannot help but sympathize greatly with Emilie as her character narrates the story from her first meeting with Klimt as a curious 12-year-old girl to Klimt's death and beyond, culminating in 1945 war-torn Austria. As I mentioned, I don't normally read novels of this type, and I must say that I was mesmerized by the entire story. Hickey is an artist in her own right, an artist of words, and she captures Emilie's soul as deeply and hypnotically as any portrait ever could, including the haunting portrait that graces the cover.
I know next to nothing about art, so I found this book's story of Viennese art history in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century most informative. The author works many of Gustav Klimt's portraits, and the women who posed for them, into the novel, and I would encourage the reader to seek out the images of these portraits online or in art gallery books - Klimt's actual historical portraits make for the most vivid of visual aids when it comes to immersing yourself in this story. Hickey has done an impressive job researching the principals as well as Viennese society and its surprisingly complex culture of artists. Along with Klimt, you also meet two of his protégés in the art nouveau Viennese movement, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka. The proclivity of these artists to paint nude women made them controversial artists, and Klimt further established his reputation by pioneering the Secession Movement in Vienna.
Emilie Floge first met the older Klimt as a 12-year-old, and she was less than excited when her father arranged for her to take art lessons from the poor, unknown artist. She and her sister Helene were exposed to a completely new world in his art studio, and Emilie inevitably fell in love or something much like it with Klimt. He returned her feelings in an unquantifiable manner, but even Emilie realized fairly early on that he was a philanderer who did more than merely paint many of the society ladies who posed for portraits with him. It was a dysfunctional relationship between a man who would never commit or change his ways and a self-conscious young lady who could never pull away from his influence. It's generally understood that Emilie was Klimt's mistress, but their relationship, as represented in The Painted Kiss, is much more complicated than that; sex actually plays a minor (albeit disturbing) part in their relationship as imagined by Elizabeth Hickey. Emilie is a fascinating character in her own right, enjoying great success as a fashion designer in Vienna and maintaining a place in society despite the open secret of her personal relationship with Klimt. Even twenty-seven years after his death, in the midst of the travails of 1945 Austria, Klimt still dominates the life of Emilie.
The artist does the reader a service by mentioning several of the changes she made in the historical facts of her subjects' lives. It can't be easy creating a story around a relationship when history records very little of the details, and I think Hickey has done a masterful job. While I never came to completely understand the motivations of the two main characters, I was perpetually mesmerized by the story that played out before me. This novel inevitably draws comparisons to Girl With a Pearl Earring; not having read that novel, I can't compare the two. I can, however, declare that The Painted Kiss is an incredibly rich, perfectly enchanting work of modern literature that I found absorbing and truly magnificent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
This is an ambitious novel by its first time author. The focal point of the book is the relationship between noted Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt, and Emilie Floge, mistress of an exclusive fashion salon in fin de siecle Vienna. This is a woman whose name would be upon his lips when Klimt died. Who was she, and what was their relationship?
As there is little known in the historical record about the relationship between Gustav Klimt and Emilie Floge, the author was free to let her imagination wander. Told as a first person narrative by Emilie Floge, the book reveals a relationship that would encompass many years, many events, and many changes. Having first met Gustav Klimt when she was a twelve year old girl, and he was but a penniless, nearly starving, artist, she becomes his pupil. As he instructs this young girl in the fundamentals of drawing, a certain undeniable attraction exists. She is fascinated by him, and he eventually notices the nubile young girl that she is. Under his tutelage, our bourgeois young lady glimpses the world of the demi-monde, a world where artists' models and artists would bypass the mores of accepted society.
Theirs was a relationship that would span his lifetime until his death at the age of fifty-six. Yet, theirs was not to be the passion of great lovers. Their relationship, at least in the imaginings of the author, was more one of intimate friendship. Through the eyes of Emilie Floge, the reader sees the accession of Gustav Klimt into the highest rungs of Viennese society, a sought after, though somewhat controversial, artist and lover. He, in turn, becomes Emilie's patron, assisting her with the establishment of her haute couture salon, where she would dress the wealthy women who sought out Gustav Klimt in hopes of becoming his mistress. That position was one that Emilie herself had considered but eschewed in the final analysis. The author conveys a certain feeling of melancholy between the two protagonists, who are bound together by something stronger than a fleeting passion. In the end, Emilie became something even more important to Gustav Klimt. She became his muse.
This is a fairly well-written, introspective work of historical fiction that occasionally lacks substance. At times, it feels as superficial as the society about which the author writes. The author, however, intersperses commentary on some of Gustav Klimt's paintings. These are paintings that bear some relation to Emilie's narrative, and the use of commentary is an interesting literary contrivance. So, there is much to enjoy in this novel, and I look forward to this promising author's next book. Should anyone wonder what Emilie Floge looked like, one need only look at the beautiful cover art of the book. Gracing the cover is a painting by Gustav Klimt of the lovely Emilie Floge.
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on 25 January 2009
I have to confess to not being a Klimt fan, yet while reading this I realised just how many of his painting I knew and gained new perspectives about them and their artist. This is a work of fiction - of course there are no guarantees that these people were actually like this and the author makes that clear.
Hickey has produced a novel that is very believable and provides you with a wonderful insight into 1880s Vienna. Emilie Floge starts out as a young girl who Klimt offers drawing lessons to, their connection is lifelong and it is this relationship and its changing status that drives the novel. Emilie goes from student to friend to lover to muse and sometimes all of them at once.
If you are a Klimt fan (or like me maybe not), or just an art fan then this is an interesting novel which will hold your attention. It can be compared to Girl with a Pearl Earring or Will Davenport's The Painter but only in as much as it is fiction about an artist.
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on 31 March 2014
Read as a book club choice. OK but not life changing. Much of the "story" I knew and didn't feel it had huge insights into the mind of either Klimt or his muse. Would have been more interesting if it had included illustrations of the different artists' work, though did prompt me to look them up.
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on 25 March 2009
As a fan of Klimt and the Secessionist movement I had high hopes of this novel, however I was disappointed. It reads like a piece of light historical romanctic fiction and I was completely distracted by the appalling grammar; how many times can one person use the nonsensical expression "off of"??
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on 9 May 2013
This had a greater amount of research and needed more research by the reader to make sense. Very well written and ideal for taking on holiday and immersing in over a short period,of time
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