(Austria 14 Jul 1862 – 06 Feb 1918)
45.3 x 31.5 cm sheet (irreg.)
This highly stylised yet superbly fluent pencil drawing is one of numerous figure studies related to Klimt’s most controversial public commission: the so-called ‘faculty paintings’ for the University of Vienna. In 1894 Klimt was invited by the Austrian Ministry of Education to assist with the ceiling decorations for the university’s new assembly hall. The commission stipulated a sequence of five allegorical paintings: a central canvas depicting the triumph of light over darkness, with four encompassing compositions representing the faculties of theology, philosophy, medicine and jurisprudence. Of these Klimt was to execute the last three.
During his years working on the monumental canvases Klimt became deeply involved with the Vienna Secession, which brought him into contact with the European avant-garde. The first full-scale painting, Philosophy, was completed and exhibited in 1900, with Medicine appearing the following year. The finished canvases – an idiosyncratic blend of Pre-Raphaelitism, Art Nouveau and the more extreme forms of Dutch and Belgian Symbolism – marked a drastic departure from the studies Klimt had originally submitted. With their determinedly flat patterning and ornamentation, the canvases were not only stylistically surprising: they eschewed the idealising conventions of academic practice and their message appeared irrational, pessimistic, even antithetical to the Enlightenment program envisioned by the patrons.
Philosophy and Medicine were unremittingly criticised. But the canvas that provoked the strongest indignation was Klimt’s last faculty painting, Jurisprudence 1903–07. When all three paintings were displayed at the 18th Secession exhibition in 1903, the university finally distanced itself from the project and Klimt renounced the commission. Klimt acquired the paintings for himself, continuing to make changes to them until 1907. They were destroyed by fire in the Second World War.
The Gallery’s study of an ethereal robed figure is preparatory to the personification of Law in the painting Jurisprudence. Shown holding a book with the word Lex, the figure of Law – together with that of Truth – flanks the central figure of Justice who presides over the composition.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986. cat.no. 203
Christine Dixon, Secession: Modern art and design in Austria and Germany 1890s-1920s, Canberra, 2000. no catalogue numbers
Renée Free, Fin de Siècle, Sydney, Jan 1994. no catalogue numbers
Terence Maloon and Peter Raissis (Editors), Michelangelo to Matisse: drawing the figure, Sydney, 1999. cat.no. 35
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 1986–23 Nov 1986
Fin de Siècle: posters prints drawings from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Jan 1994–13 Mar 1994
Michelangelo to Matisse: Drawing the figure, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 20 Nov 1999–27 Feb 2000
Secession: Modern art and design in Austria and Germany 1980s-1920s, National Gallery of Australia, Parkes, 06 May 2000–06 Aug 2000
European prints and drawings 1500-1900, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Aug 2014–02 Nov 2014