Memories of Beauty and Darkness: Inspired by Hygieia from Klimt’s Medicine and Mucha’s Salomé
Watercolor, gouache, metallic paint on board
In adolescence the world shifts and we reach out to catch bits of the world that filter though and are caught by our molting bodies. Within this altering space, Art Nouveau grounded me by giving me inspiration. Contrast between delicate natural forms and bold outlines, melding of figure and decoration, connection of order and wildness; these all pulled me and my sketchbook through change.
Now, looking back, I suspect my long term infatuation with Art Nouveau lies in a kind of austere tangibility, in contrasts. The people in Alphonse Mucha’s work have an air of otherworldly nonchalance, reminding me of Classical sculptures of the Greek and Roman gods, beautiful, but inaccessible. Yet the illustrative quality of Mucha’s lines bring the figures down to earth and not just earth, but right to us. Mucha’s art made me feel like art was possible and that beauty belonged in this world and in our lives.
A little later in my life, Gustav Klimt’s work fueled and challenged my creativity when I was commissioned to paint a study of Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze: The Arts, Choir of Angels, Embracing Couple. Being 15 at the time, I didn’t comprehend the challenge ahead of me. Over the course of an entire year, I practiced and researched and practiced again, all the while I wondering if I was crazy to complete such a task, yet I did.
Amid the researching, I reached out to the The Secession Building museum in Vienna (see here for the history of the building and artistic movement), where the freeze is housed. While emailing a bit about the Freeze’s dimensions, I realized I was communicating with someone over seas who just may have felt as moved by Klimt’s work as I did.
Nearly four years ago now, amid all the research and painting, I wrote,
There is something about The Beethoven Frieze that feels like sitting by a fire on a cold winter day: to fully enjoy warmth even if cold seeps in at the corners, to know comfort while excepting that the darkness outside exists.
Where Mucha’s work reminds me of the intricate and simple beauty all around me, Klimt’s work reminds me that to understand this beauty, I must also understand, and perhaps befriend, the darkness and complexity that intensifies what is beautiful in our world.
For today’s piece, I choose to meld two works from these artists. The first work in this amalgamation is Klimt’s Salomé from L’Estampe moderne, no. 2 1897, chosen because it continually inspired me as I’ve grown up, reminding me of an elegant sort of freedom.
The second work is the figure of Hygieia in Klimt’s Medicine from the University of Vienna Ceiling Paintings. This piece inspired me because it no longer exists: it is believed that in 1945, this piece was destroyed by retreating Natzis. Medicine and the figures within it, live only within our culture’s memories.