Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Masturbating Venuses by Gustav Klimt


Sitting in an armchair (1913)


It is Masturbation Month, once more, and after our look at the subject last year we are going to fill Venus Observations with frigging females this month.  What better place to start than the splendidly abandoned drawings of Austrian artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).


Seated woman with legs spread (1916)


Klimt was born in Baungarten, near Vienna and early in his artistic career focussed on painting architectural decoration.  His initial treatment of figures was very classical and tight (almost photographic) and he only evolved his distinctive linear with bold blocks of colour approach in the mid eighteen nineties.   This new style, as an influential member of the Wiener Sezession movement, brought him fame and wealth, in contrast to his poverty stricken student days.




By 1904 Klimt had conceived the idea of keeping a number of models (some became his mistresses) on hand in his studio for whenever inspiration struck him.  Described as being like a harem, they inhabited a waiting room connected to his studio until, like a a sultan summoning a favourite concubine, they were invited into the studio itself.




Shortly after Klimt's death the art critic Franz Servaes wrote, rather breathlessly, about Klimt's studio. "He was surrounded by mysteriously naked female creatures, who, while he stood silently in front of his easel, promenaded up and down his studio, lolled and lazed around and bloomed throughout the day - always ready for the master's signal to remain obediently stiff as soon as he had glimpsed a pose or a movement that tantalised his sense enough to fleetingly capture it in a quick drawing."




The use of the word 'lolled' by Servaes is interesting as it is exactly the same term used by a journalist in the sixties when describing the abandoned poses of the girls in the early days of Penthouse, compared with Playboy.  Klimt's women loll with thighs spread and fingers delicately probing at their vulvae, just as Bob Guccione had them in the pages of his magazine seventy years later.  Like the Penthouse Pets, Klimt's girls are lost in their own self-absorbed reverie.  Abandoned, reflective, disinterested but assertively feminine.


Reclining semi-nude (1914)


We know nothing about these models, really, other than the fact that some, at least, were prostitutes, as Klimt didn't keep diaries and all his papers were destroyed by a lover after his death.  But the freshness and spontaneity of Klimt's line shows us that these were real women, not a created fantasy, exposing themselves and masturbating for the artist.  These were not created for 'gentlemen collectors'  (as were Boucher's explicit nudes) or as pornography; they were part of Klimt's obsession with documenting the essence of life of the human being, including its sexuality. Female sexuality, which was being acknowledged openly for the first time, being a subject of great fascination to Viennese artists during this period.


Seated woman with hat (1910)


Equally, these women are not the idealised ones of his earlier works but are everyday women, dressed or undressed.  His use of line is not employed to create an image of improved beauty but to record the women as they were at that point in time. legs apart in his studio, frigging unconcernedly as if the artist wasn't there in the room with them, watching their movement and inhaling their musky scent.  Like Guccione's later photographs it is the art of the voyeaur and, as we will see in a future post, very different to his contemporary, Egon Shciele's, approach.




Klimt had a number of run-ins with the public and critics over his frank depiction of women's bodies in his paintings but these pictures were not, of course, made public at the time.  Although Vienna was becoming a hotbed of sensual exploration during this period these would have been considered obscene and even as recently as 1966 an Italian judge branded them as just that.


From Dialogue of the Courtesans (1907)


In 1907, however, Klimt was asked to illustrate a new German translation of Lucian of Samosata's Dialogue of the Courtesans by Franz Blei.  He went back to the drawings he had done in his studio and fifteen of them were published in the book: the only occasion his erotic drawings saw the light of day during his lifetime. The drawings included single girls, a copulating man and woman and a lesbian threesome (Lucian's book, published in 43 AD, was, perhaps, the first to discuss lesbianism).  Two out of the fifteen drawings featured masturbating women.


From Dialogue of the Courtesans (1907)


At the time it was published, the writer Felix Salten said about Klimt's illustrations: "You poor fools who do not hear the nameless power of this sacred invocation of carnality.  Here is the only artist whore bourgeois prudishness does not obscure nature in all its glory."

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