The Unknown Klimt – Love, Death, Ecstasy

The Klovićevi dvori Gallery, Zagreb

Author of the exhibition: Deborah Pustišek Antić
Co-author of the exhibition: Irena Kraševac
Exhibition curator: Valentina Bach
Exhibition open: 6/26/2022
Exhibition space: Ground floor

Exhibition project ”The Unknown Klimt – Love, Death, Ecstasy” by author Deborah Pustišek Antić, senior curator of The City Museum of Rijeka, was first presented in Rijeka on April 29th 2021 at the Sugar Refinery Palace.  The exhibition, conceived back in 2014, has become one of the key events of the project Rijeka European Capital of Culture 2020. 

This unique exhibition has brought the audience closer to the early works of one of the most famous artists of all time: Gustav Klimt. „Brought closer“ can be understood literally, since the paintings in question were made for the vault of the theater of Ivan Zajc in Rijeka by Gustav and Ernst Klimt, and their friend and colleague, Franz Matsch. The first and heretofore only chance to view the paintings up close was upon their display in 1885 at The Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, where they were transported directly from the atelier of the painters’ trio. After the exhibition, they were transported directly to Rijeka, where they were set inside the vault of the newly built theater building.

Croatian National Theatre in Rijeka, HNK Ivan pl. Zajc
Gustav Klimt, Orpheus and Eurydice

At the “The Unknown Klimt – Love, Death, Ecstasy” in Rijeka, the audience could see the paintings from the standard viewers’ perspective for the first time in 136 years, since they were taken down from 20 meters of height and thoroughly cleaned and restored.

There are nine paintings in total: three are early works of Gustav Klimt (St. Cecilia, Anthony and Cleopatra, and Orpheus and Eurydice), three were painted by his brother, Ernst (Allegory of Theatrical Art, Genius with a Trumpet, and Genius with a Basket of Flowers) and three were made by Franz Matsch (Allegory of Love Poetry, Allegory of Dance, and Allegory of Comic Opera).

Although the Rijeka paintings represent the very beginnings of Klimt’s work, they provide us with a view of the brush strokes of a skilled master in his first decade of artistry, which was developed from 1880 to 1890 between two poles: on the one side under the heavy influence of his schooling at The University of Applied Arts, and on the other side, under the influence of the most popular Viennese artist at the time, Hans Makart, who was even expected to become his successor by his contemporaries because of his virtuosity, elegance, and coloristic boldness.

Franz Matsch, Allegory of Love Poetry (detail)

Even though the work order consisted of assigned themes (allegoric depictions of the musical types), Klimt departs from the traditional rigid canons of 19th-century art and fills his allegorical depictions with new substances and interpretations. Klimt’s paintings at Burgtheater and Kunsthistorisches Museum are now thought of as masterpieces of late historicism. In the text ”Allegorical paintings by Gustav Klimt at the Theater of Rijeka”, author Irena Kraševac, Ph.D., deems it necessary to add these works in Rijeka’s theater to that same classification.

The exhibition project ”Klimt in Rijeka” is a unique opportunity for Zagreb’s audience to get to know the early, less-known part of the artistic creation of one of the most famous artists in the world. 

Thoroughly conserved and restored at the Croatian Conservation Institute of Rijeka and Zagreb, these valuable works of art now seem as though they arrived straight from the atelier in Vienna. For the very first time, the visitors can admire the fine, elegant strokes of Klimt’s painting brush.

*The exhibition was realized in cooperation with the City Museum of Rijeka*


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