i don’t normally reproduce emails etc. but i thought this might interest someone, an extract from my email to the art historian:

Klimt reminds me of William Blake a little – he’s somehow both factual and visionary. Although Klimt’s backgrounds (the gold and so on) are very vivid, they don’t distract from his ladies – it’s as if the women emerge from the background (as a cat comes out of a bush), or dissolve into it – they are, in some way, a part of the background, a part of their clothes. i think the backgrounds, however surreal & strange, are another way of seeing his women – it’s as if he painted the woman’s body in the centre, then for the background painted her soul.

It’s interesting to look at Gretl’s portrait, at the background, as if it were her soul, her essential being. Up to the thighs she’s a sea green, powerful and living; but from the thighs to the collarbone (i.e. the bit Klimt would have been interested in) she’s a strange, reluctant grey, almost lifeless; then from the collarbone up she’s a complex of segregated rooms, doors, each kept carefully apart from the others. Around her head there’s a kind of miniature hall full of coloured circles and dots – perhaps this is how he saw her mind – it’s very orderly, too orderly, a little tame – but coloured, as if there IS real life there, just restrained and held in check. And around that little hall there’s an enclosing grey, as if to say her mind, her cognitive faculty, is encased in the same deadness as her sexual body. i’d love to see the original painting, before she had the mouth changed (a typically arrogant act). In Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, a character says the mouth gives character away, more than the eyes. Perhaps the original mouth was too true for her.

It’s hard to find online (or print) versions that are much good, but here’s a fairly big one. i think the original is now in Munich, perhaps i’ll somehow get a chance to see it one day.

gretl

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