, , ,

Making portraits with Gustav Klimt

I finished this piece this morning.  I braved the outside world and went and bought a staple gun to fix the applique to the canvas box mount and she was finished.

You might have picked up, if you follow me on Instagram, that I went to Vienna a couple of weeks ago.  I really loved it, although it is a slightly weird place, and am plotting about how to go back, assuming we ever get to travel again.  One reason for going was to see the Klimts.  Now every embroiderer worth their salt seems to go through a Klimt phase.  I went through mine about ten years ago, and I thought I was over it.  But, I was working on my sketchbook stuff for the workshop in May which I still hope is going ahead, and I started to get into all the lovely gold and patterning again.

I did quite a lot of reading round Vienna and Klimt, and there will be a lot to blog about, and I have used this in some new pieces of work.  This time round I was fascinated by Klimt’s portraits and not just the magnificent golden ones of Adele Bloch Bauer.  I really like this one of Joanna Staude:

She doesn’t attract a lot of interest because she was not one of Klimt’s clients; she was a professional model.  No-one seems to know much about what happened to her after the Anschluss.  I love the painting because it belongs to a series of paintings Klimt made which are really interested in fashion and fabric.  I think it may have been this portrait where the model turned up in a not particularly interesting dress and Klimt asked her to put her coat on backwards with the lining side out.  It would make sense.  It would account for the wonderful blocky outline.  I also love her hair.

So, I started out with an outline which I traced:

and made some pattern pieces, and then I built her up.  I like the blue against orange scheme of the portrait, but what I had to hand was some scraps of fabric with Voysey prints on them.  Voysey was immersed in the Art Nouveau movement like Klimt and so it seemed appropriate to use them:

You can just about see them through the beads.  The beads are, of course. a reference to all those great golden works and Klimt’s love of pattern.  I expect I was channelling the woman in Klimt’s Stoclet Palace cartoon:

I really enjoyed doing the embroidery on this.  I worked it in a frame.  I haven’t used a frame for a long time, but I knew the thing would distort if I did it in my hand and I wanted to be able to mount it as a flat picture.  Even better, when I went up to Hobbycraft to buy the frame, the bits had been in the sale so long that they were no longer on the system and so I got them for free.

I really enjoyed getting the fur collar on the coat:

It’s made from a tricksy synthetic furnishing fabric layered, frayed and stitched and I was delighted with how it turned out.

The hair was also interesting.  I was going to do more to it, but in the end I thought a simple approach was good:

I thought the pattern had an imperial look to it, which was appropriate for the city which had been the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

I loved doing the face.  Mine is more melancholy than the original, which perhaps reflects the spirit of the age.  I like the fact that she looks like she has seen life:

I used some bold colours on her face because that is what Klimt did in the portrait, and I liked the effect.

I didn’t use any bondaweb or similar on this as I find it difficult to stitch through.  I used a dab of pritt stick and the odd pin.  It seemed to work well enough.  Each component apart from the hair was mounted on something before I stitched it.  The coat was a piece of thin wadding and the face was mounted on felt.  This allowed dense stitching which would not have been possible on the thin background as it would have pulled and distorted badly.  The whole thing was then mounted onto some cotton interlining before being stretched over the commercial canvas.  I could have made the background as lush and glowing as Klimt and wondered about reversing the colour scheme so I had a red coat against a blue background, whereas Klimt had the opposite, but in the end I liked the simplicity of the background against the florid patterning.  The background fabric is some I found in the sale at John Lewis.  I bought it because it has a subtle shimmer which is great for the blingy Klimt.  The fabric is a linen blend and I can see why it didn’t sell as it doesn’t suggest any particular garment, but the linen makes it just firm enough to take the applique on top.

As I said, I loved working on the face.  I borrowed techniques from Sue Stone and Elizabeth Loveday, both of whom did wonderful workshops for Selvedge magazine last year.  I drew the face freehand and then ‘coloured it in’ with embroidery thread and a mix of stem stitch. back stitch, split stitch and seeding.  I like this way of working – not trying to make something pretty but something striking.

I am in the middle of another piece at the moment which is a bit larger.  I am thinking of working up a talk on Klimt for next year.  He is endlessly inspirational.  I am not sure if I would have liked him in person, but he was apparently catnip for the ladies, so who knows.  For the moment I am just enjoying using his work as a starting point for my own.

4 replies
  1. Beth Berman
    Beth Berman says:

    Really a wonderful piece and I love it when I hear the reasoning and planning behind each step. I have also done some reading about Klimt and he was quite the character!! Great job and a really lovely piece.

    Reply
    • Ann Rippin
      Ann Rippin says:

      I am so sorry. My system seems to have stopped telling me when people comment. Thanks very much for your support and kind words. I agree. Klimt was quite a character – 17 illegitimate children – that takes some stamina.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *