Sunday, February 10, 2008

Assorted Water Maidens:

One of the more consistent images to show up in Klimt’s work was a repeated variant on the water maiden. He was interested in female sexuality and he was interested in mythology, so it is not surprising that he would turn to the playfully erotic image of the naiad, the mermaid, the naked water nymph whose long, lustrous locks flow in tandem with the currents that stream about her and which carry her downstream as she stretches her lithe frame through them. (In Mermaids, he even goes so far as to put the full weight of the figures’ sexuality on their hair, eliminating the bodies and depicting the women as floating manes with hungry faces peering out of them.) One can see this image of flowing, water-like hair in many of his non-aquatic subjects as well, including Danae and the Nuda Veritas (1899), and even examples in which the female sexual power comes off as downright dangerous, such as the Furies from Jurisprudence or the Gorgons from the Beethoven Frieze (1902).

Additionally, the combination of images spoke directly to the Art Noveau focus on natural forces – the female from which humanity is born luxuriating in the wellspring from which all life emerges.

Other familiar aspects show up here as well. In Water Serpents I, the two lesbian mermaids (women romantically intertwined was a theme that popped up quite a bit, mostly in his sketchwork) float in each other’s arms, the face of the one turned towards the viewer displaying the sleep/dream eroticism. Moving Water has a muted male presence, landing somewhere between the ‘face turned away’ depiction of many of his works and the reduction to a single rectangle in Danae. Here we have a somewhat toad-like figure standing off to the side of the current upon which the women float, peering up at them with, well, certainly with interest, possibly desire. It seems open to interpretation.

Lastly, it is worth pointing out, for humor value alone, that the playful Goldfish is believed to be a deliberate thumb to the nose to those critics who took exception to his portrayal of sexuality. Not only does the figure in the forefront have hair of an even more flaming red than usual, she also saucily looks back at the audience as she points her bare backside at them.

Moving Water (1889)


Fish Blood (1898)


Mermaids (Whitefish) (c.1899)


Goldfish (1901-02)


Water Serpents I (1904-07)


Water Serpents II (1904-07)


Next: Judith I (1901) & Judith II (1909)


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