Schubert at the Piano Gustav Klimt Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer who had a short life but left a significant impression on the musical world.

Although Schubert passed away before Gustav Klimt's lifetime, he also made an impression on the Austrian artist. Schubert is reported to be Klimt's favorite composer. Painted in 1899 during Klimt's "Golden Phase", Schubert at the Piano was part of a commissioned project by another painter, Franz Matsch. Matsch had Klimt and some other artists create paintings to decorate different rooms in his house. Klimt was asked to create pieces for the music room. Schubert was popular at the time and admired by Matsch himself, so it was an easy decision to paint Schubert.

The Schubert at the Piano painting is different than many of Klimt's other works and is actually quite interesting. Art historians have noticed how Klimt made the painting contemporary even though it's main subject was from the past. Klimt presented the female onlookers in more contemporary dress, thus ignoring any kind of historical accuracy. Furthermore, the woman on the left who is facing the front of the painting is apparently one of Klimt's mistresses and the mother of two of his sons, named Marie Zimmerman. This would have also been a scene out of Klimt's imagination. While Schubert undoubtedly played the piano for a group of people, this specific scene for the painting was imagined and represented by Klimt. The representation of Schubert is quite accurate based on other images, which shows Klimt's immense skill.

This painting has a somewhat tragic end. While prints and copies exist, the original artwork was destroyed along with a dozen other Klimt paintings in a fire that was set by retreating German soldiers during World War II in 1945 at Schloss Immendorf in southern Austria. The paintings, including Schubert at the Piano, were originally placed in the castle for safekeeping - a plan which evidently and unfortunately did not work. It was good that copies existed before the fire so that the painting could live on despite major destruction to Klimt's art.