Male nude from behind (Study for "Philosophy")
The Klimt University of Vienna Ceiling Paintings, also known as the Faculty Paintings, were a series of paintings made by Gustav Klimt for the ceiling of the University of Vienna's Great Hall between the years of 1900-1907. In 1894, Klimt was commissioned to paint the ceiling. Upon presenting his paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, Klimt came under attack for 'pornography' and 'perverted excess' in the paintings. None of the paintings would go on display in the university. In May 1945 all three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces.
Philosophy was the first of the three pictures presented to the Austrian Government at the seventh Vienna Secession exhibition in March 1900. It had been awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in Paris, but was attacked by those in his own country. Klimt described the painting as follows: "On the left a group of figures, the beginning of life, fruition, decay. On the right, the globe as mystery. Emerging below, a figure of light: knowledge." Critics were disturbed by its depiction of men and women drifting in an aimless trance. The original proposal for the theme of the painting was "The Victory of Light over Darkness", but what Klimt presented instead was a dreamlike mass of humanity, referring neither to optimism nor rationalism, but to a "viscous void".Fleidl, Gottfried: "Gustav Klimt 1862-1918 The World in Female Form", p. 77, Benedikt Taschen, 1994. A rough study of the painting can be found here.
The paintings were attacked by critics when they were presented, as each painting broke different cultural taboos, contradicting the trend of the era to 'sublimate reality and to only present its more favourable aspects.'(Neret) The paintings also drew the standard charges of obscenity which Klimt often faced. Eighty-seven faculty members protested against the murals,Fleidl, p. 81, 1994. and in 1901 a public prosecutor was called in and the issue even reached the Parliament of Austria, the first time that a cultural debate had ever been raised there, but in the end no action was taken. Only the education minister defended Klimt, and when Klimt was elected to be a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in 1901 the government refused to ratify the action. He was never offered another teaching position. This would also be the last time Klimt would accept commissions from the state, remarking: "I've had enough of censorship...I reject all state support, I don't want any of it."Fleidl, p. 88, 1994. A later painting of his entitled Goldfish (to my critics) (1901-1902) which showed a smiling, beautiful woman projecting her bottom at the viewer, an obvious response to all those who attacked the 'pornography' and perverted excess' of the University paintings.
Outcome and destruction
The paintings were requested for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904 in St. Louis, Missouri|, but the ministry declined, nervous of what the reaction might be. Klimt then resigned his Contract|commission, wishing to keep his work, but the ministry insisted they were already property of the state. Only when Klimt threatened the removal staff with a shotgun was he able to keep his painting. Klimt repaid his advance of 30,000 crowns with the support of August Lederer, one of his major patrons, who in return received Philosophy. In 1911 Medicine and Jurisprudence were bought by Klimt's friend and fellow artist, Koloman Moser. Medicine eventually came into the possession of a Jewish family, and in 1938 the painting was seized by Germany. In 1943, after a final exhibition, they were moved to Schloss Immendorf, a castle in Lower Austria, for protection. In May 1945 the paintings were destroyed as retreating German SS forces set fire to the castle to prevent it falling into enemy hands. All that remains now are preparatory sketches and a few photographs, most notably that of one focusing solely on Hygieia. Only one photograph remains of the complete painting of Medicine, taken just before it was destroyed.