Daphne (formerly Girl with Blue Veil)1903 by Gustav Klimt

The Klimt Nobody Knew
Marian Bisanz-Prakken

Missing works by great artists are sometimes closer to hand that one would think; one doesn’t need to look too far afield to track them down. Even the largely known œuvre of paintings by Gustav Klimt still has some surprises. The oil painting “Daphne”, which until now was only known by its title, is a case in point.

But let’s start at the beginning. At the major Klimt exhibition at the Vienna Secession, from November 1903 to January 1904, a painting was exhibited with the title “Daphne” and given the date 1903. This painting has always puzzled Klimt scholars.
This picture with the catalogue number 16 was not illustrated or – as far as we know – described in the art criticism of the time. In 1904 “Daphne” was exhibited in Dresden,1905 in Berlin. The picture was sold through Galerie Miethke in Vienna to H.
Boehler in October 1905 (this could have been Hans or Heinrich as both brothers were collectors). This is the last documented trace of “Daphne”; after that we lose track of this work. In the recently published entire œuvre of Klimt’s paintings, the
editor Alfred Weidinger gave “Daphne” – still believed unknown and missing – the catalogue number 169.
It has, however, only recently appeared that this painting has been hidden behind another name
for decades. The work in question features in the catalogue raisonné of Klimt’s paintings by Fritz Novotny and Johannes Dobai (1967) as number 130 with the title “Girl with Blue Veil”. Information about it was scant: at the time when the first œuvre catalogue was published all that was known of this picture was an undated black-and-white
photo, the measurements and provenance: 67 x 55 cm; Boehler Collection, Vienna; Galerie Neumann, Vienna.

It was a great surprise for Klimt scholars and connoisseurs when the painting appeared in the big Klimt exhibition in 2001 at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa where it was loaned from an anonymous private collection. This work that is
brightly painted, technically complex and artistically subtle was displayed next to the painting “Hope I” (1903), created at the same time and one of the museum’s highlights. Interestingly, the red-haired pregnant woman in “Hope I” and the auburn
“Girl with Blue Veil” bear a strong resemblance. In the exhibition catalogue the “Girl with Blue Veil”, which Johannes Dobai dated 1902/03, was first illustrated on a full page in color.

Occasional thoughts were voiced earlier on that this painting could be identical with the missing “Daphne” of the same date. Yet nobody followed this up as there seemed to be many arguments against the theory: Why is there no Apollo? Where is the allusion to Daphne’s transformation into a laurel tree? Where are the branches on her hands and the leaves sprouting from her head? It was precisely these
components that were part of the standard repertoire in historic Apollo-and-Daphne depictions.

In the new catalogue of Klimt’s entire painted œuvre, the “Girl with Blue Veil” did not feature (for reasons
untold), while, as previously mentioned, “Daphne” was just given a number. This rekindled the question of whether the two paintings could perhaps be identical.

The problem then virtually solved itself: this mysterious depiction can indeed be traced back to the most famous source of the myth about Apollo and Daphne down to the details – although in a very unusual way. It relates to Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, which gives the following account of the story....

Back to the painting “Girl with Blue Veil” by Gustav Klimt, in which many of these elements play a role. We once again find the artist, who started out in the style of historicism and then converted to modernism”, tackling this mythological theme in a very unorthodox way. He concentrates on the young woman’s psychological state just before she changes. He “zooms” into the top of Daphne’s body as she flees
from Apollo, placing this at an angle in the picture space. Her appearance largely corresponds with Ovid’s text: the loose, flowing hair; the veil, slipping from her body and puffed up by the wind, the end of which she presses against herself with her left
arm; the half exposed body and especially her “gentle bosom” which Ovid stressed and many painters lustfully accentuated. Her oneness with nature is reflected not only in the flowery meadow, bordered by a wood at the top, but also by the two marguerites in her hair. The delicate blue parallel stripes of the garment, puffed up into an abstract geometric form, resemble flowing water in a characteristically
symbolist way. This in turn calls to mind the river god and it seems that Daphne is turning towards him, her mouth open as if she is saying something. The veil, like a stream of water, and the flowery meadow both cover large planes in the depiction and allude to the elements of water and earth, thus symbolizing the mythological parents of the hapless nymph.
This depiction also relates to the complex subject of Daphne at a psychological level.
In her isolated pose – a frozen moment as she hastens on which is so typical of Klimt – the young woman has to rely entirely on herself....
(continued at http://www.albertina.at/jart/prj3/albertina/data/uploads/Forschung/Klimt_Bisanz_en.pdf
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