and Gustav Klimt
I first encountered Emilie Floge as I was studying Art History. I think it was fate. I had searched and searched for an appropriate artist to study. One that was not only good at portraiture but created more than a personality within their brush strokes. Someone for me to be inspired by; I found all this in Gustav Klimt. However, when I did study this master, little did I discover of his great muse, Emilie Floge.
She is the face of one of Klimt's most acclaimed masterpieces "Portrait of Emilie Floge" which has grown to be the representation of modernity surrounding the essence of Viennese beauty. Klimt was already an accomplished artist when he met Emilie and her family. Klimt, his brother Ernst and a fellow art student established a successful partnership and were commissioned for paintings in the re-constructed Burgtheater. When the paintings were completed, they were awarded the Gold Cross of Merit by Emperor Franz Joseph.
Ernst Klimt married Emilie's sister Helene in 1891 and soon after, Gustav Klimt began his long-term liaison with Emilie. Emilie Floge is an established historical figure, but as so little is known about her personal life, author Elizabeth Hickey was compelled to simply invent Emilie's life for her novel The Painted Kiss, which is a narrative account of Klimt and Emilie's companionship. However, Emilie Floge is well remembered today, not only for her relationship with Klimt, but also being among Vienna's most exclusive couturiers between 1904 and 1938. Schwestern Floge was established in 1904 by Emilie, Helene and their eldest sister Pauline. This fashion salon was an enterprise that Klimt was personally involved. In "Portrait of Emilie Floge" the loose fitting style of the dress worn by Emilie was, at the time, advocated by the Dress Reform Movement. In 1897, Klimt and many of his friends founded their group the Secession, with Klimt as their president and a goal to reinvigorate Austrian art. Klimt's interest in clothing reform was closely connected to the Secession's call for creative involvement in all aspects of decorative arts. Not only did Klimt design dresses for Emilie but her range of folk textiles influenced the colourful, abstracted patterns found in his paintings.
Although family and friends of the pair insisted that their relationship was just friendly, there is still an avid debate on whether it was just that or something more. Unfortunately, this may never be resolved. "For years he was tied to a woman by close bonds of friendship, but here again he was unable to say yes Klimt did not dare to take on the responsibility of happiness and the woman whom he loved for so many years, was rewarded only with the right to care for him at the painful moment of his death". Infact, after Klimt's death in 1918 from pneumonia, Emilie maintained a locked room at Schwestern Floge, where she preserved all his equipment and paintings.
Because Klimt could not say yes' to one woman, he was left to purse anyone he pleased and it has been alleged that he fathered at least 14 children.
If Emilie did have a rival, it was Alma Schindler, who at 19 in 1898, Klimt developed an infatuation. It was Alma's Father that quickly suppressed Klimt. That November, at the Secession, Alma met Emilie and commented, "Later the pointed out his sisters-in-law to me. They're all in his pictures. One of them the younger- is unique. Strange eyes. Experienced, sad, floating." It is with the same depiction that Emilie appeared in photos taken by Klimt in 1906, not surprisingly wearing Reform dress designs. They were apparently one of the last times he used her as his model.
July 1908, the "Portrait of Emilie Floge" was purchased. Klimt informed Emile by saying, "Today you are sold off' or cashed in' I got a telling off from Mother yesterday, she is indignant and ordered me to produce a new portrait as quickly as possible". Klimt never accomplished his mother's request.
Although there has been plenty of hype surrounding Klimt and Emilie, most art historians believe they weren't lovers. If they weren't, then why did Emilie, talented and beautiful on so many levels, sacrifice romance, marriage and children for Klimt who apparently never revealed his feelings for her and remain faithful to him for the rest of her life? Was she a woman before her time that valued career and personal achievements more than being in a man's shadow? Was she an original feminist and advanced for her time? What Emilie thought and felt is all just speculation. It just goes to believe that in all works of fiction, reality is the inspiration. What an interesting story Emilie's life would be. I'm sure that's what Elizabeth Hickey imagined too.