Klimt, the Master of Design

Klimt, the Master of Design

Gustav Klimt is considered the 20th Century's greatest Master of Design. There are at least 4,000 drawings that we know of attributed to Klimt, not taking into account those that have been destroyed or lost and those that surface on the market every now and then.

Klimt does not consider his drawings works of art in themselves. It is said that his sketches are to be found strewn over the floor of his studio and that he lets his cats happily traipse all over them. For him, the drawings are simply a “draft version” of the iconography to be applied to his canvasses. He produces a particular abundance of drawings for the pieces that are rich in symbolism and detail. For example, in preparation for The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), his Golden Phase masterpiece, over one hundred drawings are completed.

Klimt works from the live model. His models, mostly nude women, evolve in his studio. At times he will ask them to hold a different pose or show a certain look or expression. Thus, a great majority of his drawings are devoted to the study of the human form, sketched with very few strokes but with mastery and fluidity. Mastering the representation of human anatomy, his sketches reveal his desire to convey a certain mood or emotion. For the faculty paintings (Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence), Klimt strives to illustrate the human condition.

Like in his painted works, the female form is at the heart of his drawings. Klimt reveres feminine beauty and the mystery associated with women. The women in his paintings have often a lustful air: half naked, an amorous stare, parted lips, exuding sexuality. Although Klimt’s drawings do not hold the same complexity, their erotic nature is undeniable. Klimt pushes the boundaries of eroticism in certain drawings, since for him they are studies and not works destined to be in the public domain. Nevertheless, contrary to the works of Egon Schiele, Klimt’s protégé, the sexualised figures in Klimt's works are not obscene or tortured. The emotions they convey are desire and ecstasy.

Klimt draws with a very free pencil stroke. He has not to worry about well painted detail or the refined finish. Over time, his graphic style evolves. As well as invoking geometric patterns and a blend of secessionist techniques, Klimt draws inspiration from many sources, some of which are Japanese prints, Grecian vases and also the artwork of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and Dutch symbolist Jan Toorop, the latter from whom he adopts the use of sensual shapes and curves.