Emilie Floge & Gustav Klimt
Emilie Flöge, Gustav Klimt's friend and model, was 28 when she posed for this painting. She was soon to create the very successful Viennese fashion house, Schwestern Flöge, that she directed from 1904 to 1938. With her thin face, azure blue eyes, steadfast gaze and body draped in a typically extravagant "Klimtesque" dress, Emilie Flöge in this portrait is the perfect embodiment of the new turn-of-the-century Viennese beauty. The painting is one of several portraits of women (Damenbildnis) that were shown in 1903 at the Klimt Kollektive exhibition, an event that marked the beginning of a new stylistic era in Vienna for this art form
The pattern on the dress is inspired by Japanese stencil techniques and Byzantine mosaics. Emerging casually and gracefully from a mysterious blue-tinged background, Emilie Flöge is silhouetted by the unusual ornamental fan. Klimt's first introduction of the ornamented backgrounds that would become so familiar in his later portraits. In addition, Emilie's beltless dress heralds the appearance of more liberal clothing fashions that will encourage greater freedom for both body and art - very much in the spirit of the call by the Viennese Secession for more creativity in all aspects of the decorative arts. Klimt cared deeply for his sister-in-law Emilie Flöge, a feeling that combined affection with mutual respect for their respective artistic talents. This personal connection was responsible for the portrait's becoming part of the Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien's collection in 1908.
Although Klimt never married, he had affairs with many women in both high and low classes of society. The name that is most often discussed is Emilie Floge, the fashion designer and Klimt’s sister-in-law. Art historians have often interpreted their lifelong companionship as Klimt’s ardent, albeit spiritual, need for Floge and her loyal and Platonic love for Klimt. The postcards from Klimt to Floge, however, show a remarkably taciturn and inaffection- ate correspondence. Likewise, Klimt painted only two portraits of Floge during their friendship of almost thirty years. Klimt liked to paint the women with whom he was attached, and the lack of such works inspired by Floge is worth noting. These might be evidence to the na- ture of their intimate friendship—that it was just that, and no more.
While we may be familiar with the fabulous imagi- nation of Gustav Klimt and his portraits of femmes fatales or mythical women, we are less aware of the fact that the artist also made a name for himself in fashion. With his mistress Emilie Floge, who managed one of the most prominent couture houses in Vienna, he designed "reform" dresses, thus taking part in the revolutionary movement that was rocking artistic and middle class Vienna at the time. By photographing these designs for a magazine, Gustav Klimt became the first photographer of the history of fashion.