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Klimt's Mäda Primavesi

Like most portrait paintings by Klimt, this painting pits its subject against a highly adorned, ornamented background. The painterly application of pigment softens the disparate foreground and background, so that all boundaries are erased, creating a state of flux between subject and backdrop. Therefore, we can assume that although Mäda’s face is foggier than the other elements of the painting, it is not a condition of the pigments or binding media implemented, it is a product of the artist’s style and conception. The flatness generated from the organic blending of the foreground and background, creates an odd surface wherein Mäda becomes part of this unconventional landscape.

Describing what may be a sky, wallpaper, or some abstraction, Klimt implements a pink violent backdrop, possibly alluding to the subject’s youth, innocence, or girliness. The multi-colored floral pattern heavily implemented below the horizon line and minimally dispersed above the horizon on the backdrop, and the animal imagery, push the unrealistic, dream-like quality of the work, adding to its decorative nature. The flora that seems to consume young Mäda, places the painting outside the realm of reality, into a world where youth is fixed in a timeless arrangement of form and color.

As the subject melds into the decoration of the backdrop, the oddly shaped, bulbous white triangular form on which Mäda is situated, pulls the viewer further into this two dimensional world while forming an unconventional spatial depth. The triangular form, which repeats itself in Mäda’s dress, creates a balance between foreground and background, so that attention is on the subject. It is as though, the whites, used to describe her legs, shoes, dress, and the ground, create a kind of depth while maintaining flatness of form. Purple zigzags span the bottom few inches of the work, on which Mäda’s shoes are placed, providing the viewer with an unrealistic, unusual depiction of depth. 

Although this is Klimt’s only portrait of a child, he excelled in the youthful depiction of Mäda. From her porcelain skin, to the blue bow that ties up her shinny hair, to the white garb that covers her petite frame, the work is clearly an expression of untainted youth. It is one of the most highly personal of the artist’s works, in which he has captured the effervescent, independent personality of his youthful sitter. The painting manages to hint at a highly-strung, even a spoiled, willful nature, without detracting from the dominant impression of spirit and energy.

Condition:

Networks of craquelure cover the entirety of the painting, not one inch of the surface is spared. Large, arching crackle envelops the canvas, indicating a thick ground implemented by the artist. The impasto implemented by Klimt, seems to be as prone to cracking as the flattened areas. Some parts of the paint layer are covered in fine skeins of cracking from drying of the ground layer. In raking light, a predominance of horizontal directional cracks is apparent, which indicates that the canvas has been rolled.

As the provenance illustrates, this piece has been transported multiple times; it is fair to assume that the directional cracking comes from poor handling of the work or that the work has been stored in an unregulated area. The color of the work has been left in tact; it is in excellent condition. There are no signs of sunken color, increasing transparency or fading, as the hues have maintained their brilliance.

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