In line with Symbolism, the use of Allegory allows Klimt to express complex ideas, qualities and flaws, personified by his subjects. His two most famous allegorical friezes are the Beethoven Frieze and the Stoclet Frieze, both from his Golden Phase and both addressing the theme of the desire for Happiness.
The Beethoven Frieze is unveiled in 1902 in the Secession’s fourteenth exhibition, dedicated to Ludwig van Beethoven. It is Klimt’s personal interpretation of the acclaimed composer’s Ninth Symphony. It is also an homage to the power of music and the arts. 34 metres long, the frieze is spread across three walls. It begins with Suffering Humanity, a naked kneeling couple pleading with a Knight in golden armour to save them and show them the way to true Happiness. This valiant young man embarks on his journey, encouraged by two allegorical female figures, Ambition and Compassion.
The second wall illustrates the terrible obstacles he must overcome to attain Happiness. The giant Typhoeus appears in the form of a gorilla with the tail of a dragon. The three women to the left of Typhoeus are his daughters, the Gorgons, and above them, the grotesque female faces are the personification of Sickness, Madness and Death. To his right, three more female figures embody Lasciviousness, Wantonness and Intemperance. Gnawing Sorrow appears in the guise of an isolated, meagre female figure, evoking the misery of humanity. In the upper section, the floating Genii, representing Humanity's hopes and yearning for Happiness, seem to be passing by at speed. Beyond the sombre journey, the third wall reveals that the Knight has vanquished these hostile forces. The yearning for Happiness finds appeasement in Poetry, symbolised by a female figure with a lyre.
The final scene of the frieze reveals a choir of women, the Arts, surrounding an embracing couple, who embody the Triumph of Joy through the arts. The image is a direct reference to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, the closing movement of the Ninth Symphony, the point at which the chorus bursts into “The Kiss to the Whole World!”, inspired by a Friedrich von Schiller poem. In the end, Humanity is saved, thanks to the Arts and Poetry, the only true path to the ideal Kingdom, where alone we can attain pure Happiness.
The Stoclet Frieze is a veritable masterpiece from the Golden Phase, created in mosaic by the Wiener Werkstätte, from Klimt’s preparatory designs on cardboard. The collective decorates the dining room of the Stoclet Palace. And so, Klimt creates an environment where guests can dine in an artificial garden of desire and love.
The Tree of Life comprises three panels, two larger longitudinal panels and one narrower panel. Across the entire surface of the two larger panels the branches of the two golden trees of life twist and undulate, reminiscent of the art of Ancient Greece. Perched on the branches are several black Pharaonic falcons, representations of the Egyptian god Horus. His protective presence is reinforced by the multitude of eyes of Horus, recognised as being a protective force against Death. The garden is completed by a meadow of flowers and rose bushes below the trees. On one side we find Expectation, depicted as a Dancer with an Egyptian allure and dressed in a long, embellished robe.
On the other, Fulfilment, personified by two lovers embracing, the male figure enveloping the female in his large, decorative cloak. Between these two panels, on a third wall and in an abstract, geometric representation, we have the figure of the Knight. As in the Beethoven Frieze, the Knight here is a representation of the Artist capable of saving Humanity. Standing between the two long panels, the Knight, the creator and guardian of this paradise garden, is evidently watching over them.