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Meeting of 20th century masters: Klimt paintings, Rodin sculptures

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A reproduction of the large 1902 “Beethoven Frieze” (detail: “The Arts, Paradise Choir, and The Embrace” is pictured) is on view in “Klimt and Rodin: An Artistic Encounter” at the Legion of Honor. (Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
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An exhibition of major works by early-modern-age Austrian painter Gustav Klimt — a rare occasion on these shores — is in The City, accompanied by significant works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, a fellow turn-of-the-century buster of norms.

“Klimt and Rodin: An Artistic Encounter,” at the Legion of Honor through Jan. 28, commemorates the upcoming 100th anniversaries of the deaths of both artists.

At least 30 works by Klimt, known for his daring, ornamental and erotic paintings of women, are on view, along with about 25 works by Rodin. The latter’s sculptures feature realistic themes and, through the form of the body, convey psychological as well as physical dynamics.

The show — curated by Tobias Natter, a leading Klimt scholar, and Martin Chapman of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco — loosely centers on the 1902 Vienna Secession exhibition, where Rodin, already renowned, and Klimt, still ascending, met.

While Rodin’s portion of the exhibit contains impressive pieces from the Fine Arts Museums collection, Klimt, who has never before received a major West Coast show, is the primary reason for excitement. Significant portraits, allegories and landscapes by the symbolist artist on loan from collections in Vienna and elsewhere are in the exhibit.

Two seven-foot-tall panels reproduced from Klimt’s large-scale “Beethoven Frieze” (1902), which Rodin saw and admired at the Vienna exhibition, is a centerpiece attraction. The frieze, from Klimt’s golden period, when he used gold leaf in his paintings, depicts the desire for happiness in a woe-filled world.

“Nuda Veritas” (1899), Klimt’s iconic statement of defiance to the traditionalist art establishment, pictures a provocatively nude woman and a naked-truth theme.

Also noteworthy is the Art Nouveau-style “The Virgin” (1913), in which six nude women surround the title figure. Their entwined bodies, along with decorative swirls, represent stages of the female experience.

Portraits of modern-looking Viennese society women include “Portrait of Sonja Knips” (1898), which illustrates a less-stylized pre-gold-period sensibility and reflects the influence of James Whistler.

“Portrait of Johanna Staude” (1917-18), which Klimt died before completing, has a more-expressionistic late-period look.

Landscape paintings also reveal Klimt’s evolving style. “On Lake Attersee” (1900) contains impressionistic brushwork. “Italian Garden Landscape” (1913) features looser, expressionist strokes.

Rodin, meanwhile, may be upstaged by Klimt, but the exhibit still gives him substantial attention. His bronze, marble and plaster sculptures act both as companion pieces to Klimt’s paintings and as stand-alone examples of his artistry, which includes a gift for texture and surfaces.

“The Kiss” (1881-82), Rodin’s celebrated sculpture of a couple embracing, is displayed near Klimt’s own “The Kiss” (1907-08), a golden signature painting.

Additional Rodin pieces include “Eve” (1881), “The Fallen Angel” (1890) and the life-sized Michelangelo-inspired “The Age of Bronze” (1875-77; cast around 1914).

Erotic drawings by the two artists, both noted draftsmen, are on view in side rooms.

REVIEW
Klimt and Rodin: An Artistic Encounter
Where: Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave., S.F.
When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays (closed Monday); through Jan. 28
Admission: $30 to $35
Contact: (415) 750-3600, www.famsf.org

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