The Latter Years: The Exploration of Color

The Latter Years: The Exploration of Color

Almost a decade into the 1900s, Klimt begins to reassess his Golden Phase. The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, leads him to contemplate the way he has pushed the use of gold leaf to the limit. While he continues to use gold abundantly in Judith II and the Stoclet Frieze, he goes through a period of uncertainty, which lasts until 1912.

The Black Feather Hat (1910) is a telling example of his wavering style at this time. This painting contrasts remarkably with the recent works of his Golden Phase. The color palette is minimalistic: stripped back to tones of black, white, brown and red. Gold and any other adornment are completely neglected. In the same year, Mother with Two Children announces his return to temperance. It depicts a mother and her two young children sleeping, wrapped in a dark cover that stretches over almost the entire surface of the canvas, leaving only their pale faces visible.

In 1912, a change occurs. Klimt paints the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II which launches his latest style. Temperance and sombre tones are replaced by an abundance of color and decorative patterns. Flowers, spirals but also direct references to Japanese and Korean art are the new backdrop for Klimt’s models. This is particularly obvious in the portraits of Elisabeth Bachofen-Echt and Friederike Maria Beer.

While Klimt updates his color palette and develops new motifs, the subjects of his paintings do not waver. The Virgin (1912-13) and the allegory of Death and Life (1911-16) are a continuation of the prolific themes connected to the cycle of life, women and eroticism.

Around this time, Klimt discovers the artistic works of French artists Toulouse-Lautrec and Henri Matisse, representing Fauvism, which Klimt admires for its celebration of color and decorative motifs. These painters have a resounding influence on art in the era. Contrary to other contemporary painters, such as Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele, whose works reflects the anguish linked to World War I, Klimt very rarely expresses this sentiment. He seems to side with hope and preserve his sense of harmony, as he develops his decorative motifs, no longer based in gold but rather an explosion of colors. Two Women Friends (1916-17) and Lady with Fan (1917-18) are exemplary paintings from this era.