Gustav Klimt’s Mother, Anna

In an adaptation of the famous saying, behind every successful (male) artist there is a mother – and these mothers have often been the subject of their sons’ works. Perhaps the most famous is James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1 (1871), more commonly known as ‘Whistler’s Mother‘ (remember Mr. Bean‘s hilarious encounter with the painting?). But the mums of Albrecht Dürer, Paul Gauguin, Lucien Freud and many many more, have all been immortalised in art by their sons.

 

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1, 1871

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Arrangement in Grey and Black, No. 1, 1871

 

This post is about the mother of the Viennese artist Gustav Klimt. She was clearly a very important figure for Klimt – he never married, and despite fathering 14 illegitimate children (allegedly), and having a life long companion in Emilie Flöge, he lived with his mother for his whole life. Her name was Anna Klimt, and this is the little I know about her:

 

Anna Klimt, mother of Gustav Klimt, photograph c. 1906

Anna Klimt, mother of Gustav Klimt, photograph c. 1906

 

Anna Rosalia Klimt (neé Finster) was born in Vienna on 27 January 1836 into an impoverished family, but one with artistic talent. Anna herself was a lyric singer, but her musical ambitions  were never realised. On 17 July 1860, at the age of 24, she married a metal engraver from Moravia (now in the Czech Republic), to whom she bore seven children – three boys and four girls: Klara Anna 1860-1937, Gustav 1862-1918, Ernst 1864-1892, Hermine Franziska 1865-1938, Georg 1867-1931, Anna 1869-1874, and Johanna 1873-1930.

Anna’s life was not easy – her husband Ernst Klimt never made a lot of money, then suffered badly in the financial crash of 1873, and she was affected deeply by the untimely death of her youngest daughter Annerl (Anna), aged 5, in 1874. Her son Ernst and her husband both died in the year 1892, and for the next twenty-three years, Anna Klimt lived with son Gustav and her two spinster daughters.

 

Gustav-Klimt-Sister-Annerl

Posthumous drawing of his sister Annerl, by Gustav Klimt, 1885

 

Anna is said to have had a nervous breakdown after the death of her daughter Annerl, and continued to suffer from depression for the rest of her life. The death of his sister clearly left an impression on Gustav as well – he produced this beautiful and sensitive posthumous drawing of her (above) ten years after her death.

Klimt painted his mother in oils, but this portrait is now lost. Some sketches do exist, in which he is clearly indebted to Whistler:

 

Sketch by Gustav Klimt of his mother, Anna

Sketch by Gustav Klimt of his mother, Anna

 

Klimt often worked from photographs, and it is likely that the above sketch was done after a photograph of his mother taken on the occasion of her 70th birthday, on 27 January 1906:

 

Photograph of Anna Klimt, mother of Gustav Klimt, 1906

Photograph of Anna Klimt, mother of Gustav Klimt, 1906

 

In this photograph, Anna Klimt is seated in a chair by the Wiener Werkstätte, a present for her birthday. I love the pattern of the upholstery, most probably designed by Josef Hoffmann.

Anna died on 6 February 1915, aged 79. Gustav Klimt died three years later, aged 55, and was buried next to his mother in Heitzinger Cemetery in Vienna. In death, as in life, they were not to be parted.

 

Happy Mother’s Day 2014 to all mothers everywhere, especially mothers of artists – but also to my very own mum who has braved many hardships in her life but is still going strong and celebrated her 80th birthday in January. Keep up the good work mum!

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