Gustav Klimt: The Magic of Line

The artist's drawings reveal “exquisite draftsmanship” and “the subtlest of emotions.”

J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Through Sept. 23

You’ve never seen Gustav Klimt this stripped down, said Armine Pilikian in Best known for paintings in which the human figure competes for attention with ornate patterning and vast fields of gold leaf, the great Austrian symbolist (1862–1918) also produced thousands of drawings in which he revealed “exquisite draftsmanship” and “a willingness to twist, mangle, and breathe life” into every line. On the 150th anniversary of Klimt’s birth, the Getty has gathered 117 of those drawings, many of them remarkable for their ability to convey “the subtlest of emotions.” In early sketches of people watching Romeo and Juliet, Klimt captured grief in one viewer’s face as easily as he did “the quiet triumph” in Juliet’s. In a preparatory drawing for his famous 1907 portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the young arts patron seems more vulnerable than in the finished work, with “a sensual intensity forming in her emptied, triangular mouth.”

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The faces tell just a fraction of the story, said Michelle Lopes in the California Literary Review. This show is a “visual feast of anatomical studies,” a showcase for the various ways the human body “communicates emotion, passion, and ideas.” By the time Klimt emerged as a leading artist of the Vienna Secessionist movement, his drawings seemed to pull female nudes “from the paper itself,” as in Fish Blood (1897–98), a work in which five sparsely drawn female figures “recline and writhe above a plane that suggests water without definitively indicating it.” Never bashful about his own carnality, or that of his female subjects, he became looser in his drawing, bringing “a frenetic power” to his late nudes. “These sketches are studies not only of the women he drew, but of his relationships with these women. Carnality is here once more, but so too is respect.”

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