After many years of ‘hiding’, Klimt’s work is a star in the Rome show

ROM (AP) – The mystery still swirls around Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of a Lady” almost a quarter of a century after the painting …

ROM (AP) – The mystery still swirls around Gustav Klimt’s “Portrait of a Lady” almost a quarter of a century after the painting was stolen from an Italian museum, only to emerge at the start of what would become the coronavirus pandemic.

Who stole the 1917 artwork and how it ended up hidden inside the museum’s exterior walls is still unknown. But the portrait of a young woman with a sensuous look from the side will be part of a large exhibition about the Austrian artist’s work, which opens in Rome on Wednesday.

Experts announced in January 2020 that a painting accidentally discovered the month before by a gardener clearing ivy from the outer walls of the Ricci Oddi Modern Art Gallery in Piacenza was in fact the Klimt that had disappeared from the gallery in 1997.

The portrait set against a dreamy, moss green background had been on display again for a few weeks when the museum in northern Italy had to close as part of Italy’s first corona lockdown. Only relatively few visitors, mainly from the Piacenza area, had the opportunity to admire it.

Now the portrait is just one of the most important things in the new exhibition, which was seen on Tuesday, in the Museum of Rome’s Palazzo Braschi. Featuring in the exhibition is also the last, unfinished painting Klimt worked on before he died in 1918, “Portrait of a Lady in White.”

A 34 meter long and 2 meter high (112 feet by 6.6 feet) frieze mounted on three walls in one of the palace rooms is another dazzling piece. Klimt conceived the frieze, which contains sinewy figures and glittering sections, as a tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven and the composer’s Symphony No. 9.

A few months ago, prosecutors officially closed their investigation into the theft of “Portrait of a Lady”, with the statute of limitations for the crime expiring, and the perpetrator or culprits never finally determined.

“It’s a true mystery,” said Jonathan Papamarenghi, culture commissioner for Piacenza, as he attended Tuesday’s preview. “Where it was all the time, including whether it was inside the walls all the time” what was missing still has no answer, he told reporters.

The portrait was found, without a frame and wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag, behind the unlocked panel door in a room hollowed out in the outer walls of the Piacenza Gallery. In the years the painting was missing, all sorts of theories were launched about who could have snatched it. Media offered to help locate the work, and false extortion attempts were reported.

While Klimt was celebrated as a painter across the 19th and 20th centuries, various media in which the artist worked were also exhibited. A 1897 poster designed by Klimt and depicting a naked Theseus, the Athenian hero fighting against the Greek mythological monster Minotaur, was censored by the Austrian authorities of the time, who decreed that the hero’s genitals should be hidden by a tree trunk.

The exhibition is enriched with about 30 drawings lent by the Austrian Klimt Foundation.

In a drawing, Klimt outlines her mother, Anna Klimt, with one of her knotted hands on her lap. Towards the end of the exhibition’s long road is a cluster of sketches of lying, half-naked women, including one in an erotic act. They are considered preparatory studies for “The Bride,” which began in 1917, months before he would have a stroke when he was 55 and died a year later. In the exhibition, “The Bride” is the last painting that can be seen. It features a blissfully sleeping bride and the sensual visions in a mosaic of vibrant colors she probably has in her dreams.

The exhibition, entitled “Klimt. The Separation and Italy”, portrays the artist as an influencer on Italian painters who were his contemporaries, and also explores Italy’s influence on Klimt, as documented in postcards he sent from Venice, Padua and elsewhere.

In a postcard from 1903, he wrote about the Byzantine mosaics he marveled at in Ravenna, saying that they showed “unheard of splendor.” The dazzling colors and touches of gold in many of his works seem to draw inspiration from the Italian artists of centuries past.

The exhibition runs until March 27, 2022 and then moves to Piacenza, where the show, which starts there on April 5, 2022, will aptly be called “Klimt Found Again.”

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