Friday, November 16, 2007

Understatement: Klimt and Picasso didn't treat women very nicely

Klimt was a painter of shimmering landscapes and three of them are among the eight paintings in the Neue Galerie show. But sex is at the core of his work: women were his preoccupation.

The antechamber to the artist's studio is recreated in the exhibition. Along its far wall, next to the studio doors, is “Hope II”, pregnant with breasts exposed. Klimt never had his own home: he lived with his mother and two sisters. Nevertheless, he was a womaniser with uncalculated conquests and seven known children. No wonder Vienna buzzed with gossip about what, besides painting, went on in the studio beyond. Yet among all the photographs of the rather pudding-faced artist in the exhibition, not one captures what made him such a lady-killer.

More about Klimt.

Rome was also where Picasso met and pursued Olga Khokhlova, one of Diaghilev's Russian dancers, whom he would marry in 1918. Their respectable, middle-class marriage and its gradual disintegration, against a background of Olga's declining health and increasing anxiety at her husband's infidelity, dominate Mr Richardson's story. The relationship inspired some of Picasso's most disturbing portraits, such as “Large Nude in a Red Armchair” (1929) and “Seated Bather” (1930), in which his wife's by now scrawny body undergoes either distortion or radical dismemberment and reconstruction. If there is one criticism to be made of Mr Richardson's analysis of these paintings, it is that he plays down the influence of surrealism on Picasso.

No trace of anger or misogyny can be found in Picasso's portraits of his curvaceous, nubile lover, Marie-Thérèse Walter, who entered his life aged 17 in 1927 and “saved him from the psychic stress of his marriage and the bourgeois restraints it imposed.”

More about Picasso.