His paintings are so decorative and inspiring at the same time that even the Swedish furniture giant IKEA took one his most famous paintings as the template for one of their best-selling wall painting called Pjätteryd – so that Klimt is represented in apartments all over the world. Today the originals are commanding top prices of hundreds of million dollars and some of his works reached the highest prices ever recorded for individual artworks. His portraits of woman wearing colorful dresses with psychedelic patterns and Japanese-inspired gold leaf elements were actually the inspirational source for the Hollywood movie “Woman in Gold”.
But even if we all know his prominent paintings like “The Kiss” and all the other bohemian beauties seen in his works, only a few people know about the history behind them and the artist’s “real” muse.
There were many rumors about Klimt’s love life and his soft spot for beautiful women – but there was one girl who was his muse throughout his whole lifetime. Her name was Emilie Flöge, her name was maybe forgotten over time – but not her elegant appearance which made her to one of Klimt’s greatest inspirations.
The two have first met when Emilie was only 18 years old. Helene, Emilie’s younger sister, married Gustav’s brother Ernst, who died only one year later. After that stroke Gustav became Helene’s guardian and thus a frequent guest at the Flöge’s summer residence at Lake Attersee. Until today it is still not clear if the artist and his young sister-in-law were lovers or just close friends – however it is clear that she was the only woman he respected as equivalent, she was his life companion. The painter and Emilie had in common that they both wanted to do something revolutionary. She began her career in her sister’s dressmaking school and later ran her own fashion boutique in Vienna.
The dresses she designed were worn without any corset and allowed a maximum of comfort to their wearer with their long wide sleeves and a loose hanging silhouette. A new way of dressing for women who love … clothing, but who refuse to sacrifice elegance in favor of wearing comfort. The early feminist movement mainly influenced her practical style and so did Klimt’s bohemianism. Klimt’s erotic art and style was as well provocative at that time. Some of his most important works are inspired by Emilie’s designs. The signature dresses with vivid mosaic patterns became the trademark of his paintings.
Emilie Flöge can be regarded as what we would now call an “It-Girl”. Her salon was one of the leading fashion addresses for Viennesse society of which the beautiful, self-willed Viennese belonged to herself. Her revolutionary dresses did not sell well– the creations were too avantgardistic for the conventional loving society. All the more enthusiastic was Klimt – he painted the “Who is Who” of Viennese high society in Emilie’s innovative dresses. Probably his most famous one is the iconic “Woman in Gold” Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), which was sold for a record $135 million in New York in 2006.
It was therefore only a matter of time before a contemporary designer would revive her designs and pay homage to her talent. The Valentino Fall/Winter 2015 – yes, the same famous fashion show that the Zoolander cast infamously crashed – was primarily inspired by Flöge’s designs. The designer send models dressed in floating, multi-colored down the catwalk. People were finally ready for this kind of feminity and honored Valentino’s revival with applause. Unfortunately it is conjeturable that most attendees of the show probably had no idea that it was not Klimt, but his muse who originally was responsible for this inspiring style.
Maybe we will never get to know if “The Kiss” is a self-portrait of Klimt and his muse, but we surely know that it is a pity that most of her collections were destroyed at the end of the war by a devastating fire, as well as valuable objects of Klimt’s heritage which he bequeathed to her.
Like this relationship was always accompanied by rumors, it is not surprising that it also ended with one a romantic one: It is said that the painter’s last words were “Get Emilie”.
photos via messynessychic.com