Sonja Knips 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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Sonja Knips

Gustav Klimt's 1889 portrait of Sonja Knips depicts a classic technique cultivated through the artist transition into the Art Nouveau scene.

The portrait was a cornerstone in Klimt's work as for five years prior to the painting the artist was inactive. The artist had spent his time pondering his style and work, finding a design that was a reflection of what he desired to create. Gustav Klimt had begun his studies in the arts through a realism style that seized the art scene of Europe throughout the 19th century.

The artist was commissioned by the Burgtheatre to paint murals showcasing the plays and actors. This job was Klimt's breakthrough to have his work showcased to the elite crowd who desired to have their portraits painted. The two prominent pieces of Klimt that showcased this realist style are Actor Josef Lewinsky As Carlos, and Auditorium in the Old Burgtheatre, Vienna.

Klimt's mark in the realist style was impeccable, through his in depth portrayal of faces and structures. However, the artist did not feel that the style was his own, and explored different genres of art. During the time, the Secession movement throughout Vienna developed an elite circle of painters who wanted to revolutionize art.

As Klimt was a part of the movement, he steered in his own direction apart from his colleagues to achieve his own style. Klimt withdrew his public activity as a muralist and began a long series of portraits that depicted the high society of Vienna, and a new style of art. Whereas the artist's realist technique depicted both men and women, Klimt had transitioned his portraits to catch the female character.

The painting of Sonja Knips was the foundation of Gustav Klimt entering into the Art Nouveau scene, which translates to English as ÔNew Art'. His revolutionary style honoured his as the star of the Vienna Secession movement, using classic colours and techniques to create his work.

The soft milky portrait manifests the elegant woman posing as the artist illustrates her details. The viewer is able to witness that the early portrait still carries an overpowering realist technique compared to his future paintings, however illustrates the painters light transition into Art Nouveau. The painting doesn't hold the artist's trademark talents that are manifested through his gold phase, yet evidently show the young artist's transition.

The model is seated on a white chair, as she stares directly at the viewer, catching their gaze. The woman holds a monotone emotion, with her lips pressed together lightly analyzing the viewer. The woman is neither hostile nor welcome, just simply poses for the artist. The woman's light pink cheeks glimmer through the canvas, adding colour to her pale face. The woman's large eyes are painted through a realist technique, greatly illustrating her facial features. The woman does not carry the prominent Austrian features most woman within Klimt's work carry, yet more so are based on a Western facial structure. The model's hair is covered in a light brunette colour, with shades of blonde near the end. Her curly hair is neatly placed in an up do above her shoulders, uncovering her face.

The woman is dressed in a light pink down, flustered in an array of colours and materials throughout the piece. The fashion during the era depicted colourful ruffled clothing, yet Klimt desired even more drama within his work. Klimt largely paints the pink ruffles near the model's face, flowing on to her shoulders. A white band of chiffon fabric cover's her waist and neck. The remainder of the woman's dress is covered in layers upon layers of sheer fabric flowing towards the floor. Klimt had used swift vertical brush strokes to depict this material and texture. Small shades of lavender and salmon are added to the bottom of the dress to highlight and contour the material.

The background is covered in a dark colour, adding depth to the painting, paired with flowers to the right of the piece. The white, blue, and red flowers intertwine into one another, adding a floral touch to the painting.