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Gustav Klimt, Adam and Eve, 1917-1918. Oil on canvas © Belvedere, Vienna

BOSTON, MASS.- For the first time in its history, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is displaying a painting by Gustav Klimt (Austrian, 1862–1918)—among the most important artists of the early 20th century. The exhibition, Visiting Masterpiece: Gustav Klimt’s Adam and Eve, features Klimt’s monumental Adam and Eve (1917-1918) alongside the MFA’s life-sized portrait of a couple, Two Nudes (Lovers) (1913), painted by Klimt’s Viennese friend and colleague, Oskar Kokoschka (Austrian, 1886–1980). On view January 17-April 27, 2015 in the Charlotte F. and Irving W. Rabb Gallery, the exhibition also includes a selection of works on paper by Klimt and his contemporaries from the MFA’s holdings. Adam and Eve—on loan from the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere in Vienna—gives visitors a taste of the artist’s signature style, including his sensuous approach to the nude and his bold experimentation with pattern, color and finish. Just five years separates the painting from Two Nudes (Lovers), which shares many features with Klimt’s work—ambitious scale, daring experimentation with form and finish, and, above all, a fascination with sexuality. Together these paintings demonstrate how avant-garde artists in turn-of-the-century Vienna adapted traditional subjects to radical new ends.

Klimt’s images capture the imagination of contemporary viewers. The combination of his sinuous lines and radical patterning—the contrast between naturalism and abstraction—are as inviting and exciting today as they were in early 20th-century Vienna,” said Ronni Baer, William and Ann Elfers Senior Curator of Paintings, Art of Europe.

Both Adam and Eve and Two Nudes (Lovers) reflect a relatively liberated side of turn-of-the-century Vienna, where Freud first practiced psychoanalysis and both artists conducted passionate affairs. But these paintings also indicate an ambivalent attitude toward women and a pessimistic view of relations between the sexes. In Adam and Eve—which was left unfinished in Klimt’s studio upon his death—Eve’s left hand would almost certainly have held the fatal apple, though Klimt chose to represent not the moment of Eve’s temptation and fall, but her creation from a rib of the sleeping Adam. In Two Nudes (Lovers), the figures seem to circle each other against a background of blue-green vegetation—Eden, perhaps, but not quite paradise. Complementing the two paintings are drawings by Klimt, who was a prolific draftsman. In these works on paper, Klimt studied gestures, poses and expressions to convey a particular psychological state. In Portrait of a Young Woman (about 1914) and Woman in Kimono (1917–18), the downcast eyes and turned heads suggest anxiety or pensiveness in contrast to the assertive face and open eyes of Eve.

Nearly 30 years Klimt’s junior, Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890–1918) first met Klimt in 1907. Schiele’s drawing, Kümmernis (Sorrow) (1914), and his watercolor, Schiele’s Wife with her Little Nephew (1915) convey raw emotion through agitated lines and distortions of the human form. Like Klimt, Schiele’s figures occupy ambiguous spaces, though unlike Klimt’s sensual Eve, Schiele’s female figures defy traditional notions of beauty. The installation also includes a work by Swiss modernist painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853–1918), who came to know Klimt through the Vienna Secession, an exhibition society devoted to raising awareness of artistic developments outside Austria. His poster, Secession (Ver Sacrum) (Sacred Spring) (1904), was made for the Vienna Secession exhibition of 1904. The final object in the exhibition is for a poster for Fromme’s Calender (1899) by Koloman Moser (Austrian, 1868–1918), a close associate of Klimt’s and a founder of the design collaborative, Wiener Werkstätte. The enigmatic image and the woman’s intense, almost hypnotic gaze underscore the anxiety of fin-de-siècle Vienna.

Visiting Masterpieces at the MFA
Gustav Klimt’s Adam and Eve is the latest presentation of the MFA’s Visiting Masterpieces series, which highlights important loans, often complemented by works from the MFA’s collection. Recent Visiting Masterpieces have included a connoisseurship study of Caravaggio and an in-depth look into the theft and recovery of Piero della Francesca’s Senigallia Madonna (1470s). In 2013, MFA visitors had the opportunity to see two of the great masterpieces of French painting in America hanging side by side: Paul Cézanne’s The Large Bathers (1900–1906) from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the MFA’s own Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? (1897–1898) by Paul Gauguin. Earlier Visiting Masterpieces included The Capitoline Brutus, a rare bronze bust of a Roman statesman dating to around 300 BC; Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Dance in the Country and Dance in the City (both 1883), on loan in 2012 from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, juxtaposed with the MFA’s Dance at Bougival (1883); and Vincent van Gogh’s The Sower (1888), lent in 2010 by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was paired with the MFA’s painting The Sower (1850) by Jean-François Millet.


Oskar Kokoschka, Two Nudes (Lovers), 1913. Oil on canvas. Bequest of Sarah Reed Platt © 2015 Fondation Oskar Kokoschka / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ProLitteris, Zürich