Gustav Klimt, the Consummate Draughtsman

On 21 January 2021, by Claire Papon

If this face looks familiar, it's no wonder. Our drawing is a study Gustav Klimt made for his painted portrait of Fritza Riedler at Vienna’s Belvedere Museum.

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918), Study for the Portrait of Fritza Riedler, blue pencil on paper, 65.5 x 49 cm (25.8 x 19.3 in).
Estimate: €40,000/60,000

The body is seen in profile, the bust and shoulders in a three-quarter view and the face frontally. This drawing prefigures the definitive painting, in which a pale yellowish-green frilled outfit replaces the boa and dress with Secession patterns. The figure’s hieratic pose makes her look even more majestic. Twenty blue pencil or graphite drawings of the young woman by Gustav Klimt are known. She is standing in some, sitting in others. They were studies for one of the first in a series of large, square portraits (153 x 153 cm, or 60.24 x 60.24 in) where the emblematic figure of the Vienna Secession experimented with gold and silver. Just a fraction of Klimt’s 200 paintings are portraits, mostly of women. Symbolic and sublime, erotic and seductive, they were among his favorite subjects. Fritza Riedler (1860-1927) is sitting in an imposing armchair, a sort of throne with a motif based on the Eye of Horus, a protective symbol in ancient Egypt, whose relief hugs the folds of her dress. Her pink cheeks, black hair and dark eyebrows set off her light skin. Born Friederike Langer, Fritza was a young woman from Viennese high society married to Aloïs Riedler, a wealthy mechanical engineer. She and Klimt probably met in 1904, when he made his first sketches. Painted in Vienna, the portrait was exhibited at a 1907 show in Mannheim before being completed. This was not unusual: Klimt often showed unfinished paintings in public before reworking them. It is said that they sometimes had to be forcibly torn away from him in order to stop the artist from touching them up.

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