Name one artist who can paint beautiful scenes and people in utter chaos. But this sensitive and difficult area was Gustav Klimt’s forte, and the painting ‘Lady with Fan’ is a testament to his skills.
Calling this painting a testament to his skills would be apt because it was his last painting by him. Right after this painting, the artist died in the year 1918.
But that’s not the only thing that makes the painting so special. The ‘Lady with a Fan’ shows the stylistic evolution of the artist. It shows a mix of all the artistic influences of Klimt.
The painting looks distinctively Klimt’s with all his characteristic style. But there are elements in the painting that feel foreign to the world of Klimt.
Let’s analyze the painting and find out what it shows about the subject and the painter.
Structure and Composition of ‘Lady with Fan’
The most interesting part of this painting is not the subject but the structure and composition of it. Instead of being beautiful chaos, it is a beautiful order.
Consider the most famous painting by Klimt; The Kiss. ‘The Kiss’ is also predominantly golden with specks of other vibrant colors. But look at the structure of it.
The golden color is given to the painting by blocks of abstract shapes with nothing discernible; a complete chaos of particles. Amidst this chaos, you see the two faces and then you can understand the rest of the structure.
But ‘Lady with a Fan’ is completely different. Every part of this painting is carefully painted, from the pattern in the wall behind to the abstract patterns on the woman’s loose dress.
Notice how the gold color on the canvas has been “tamed.” The vibrance of the golden hue as seen in other paintings and the number of embellishments have visibly gone down.
The colors are also muted, and they are evenly spaced out. It was almost as if Klimt was trying to make something totally different from what he made before. And there is a reason for that.
Meaning of the Painting
While the lady in the frame is not too important for the meaning of the painting, it is how the woman has been painted that shows the true meaning.
Gustav has been an admirer of the female form. There are many paintings by him that have the female form as the subject. But none of them has been so clear-cut and realistic.
Most of his paintings depicting a woman such as ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer’ show the woman emerging from a chaotic, golden abstract pattern. ‘Lady with Fan’ is different.
There is a clear and visible impact of Japonisme; the emergence of the Japanese style in Western paintings. There are so many elements of that in this painting.
From the way the woman has been shown with her facial makeup to the sensu or the foldable paper fan she is holding, everything shows the influence of Japanese woodblock and fabric art.
Even the birds and lotuses in the background are inspired by the traditional Eastern art style. Compare this painting to any painting by Klimt featuring a female subject and you can see the stark difference in the art style.
The painting also caused a scandal when it was revealed in the exhibition mostly because of how the woman has been shown here. The cloth hanging off her shoulder adds a very sensual appeal to it.
Something that we have noticed in the painting is the apparent presence of a figure hidden in the fan. Take a closer look at the base of the fan.
It looks like a person with a good amount of hair looking at the viewer. Add the pattern of the woman’s sleeve and it appears that the person is sitting and looking at us.
Evolution of Style
The reason why this painting is significant, apart from being the last painting by a famous artist and the fact that it has been shown to the public only a couple of times, is the evolution of art.
The artist’s evolution of making his paintings had shifted, almost completely. To someone who is not told about the painting, it looks like a homage to Klimt by some Japanese painter.
‘Lady with Fan’ shows the influence of Japanese art on European painters. Behemoths like Vincent Van Gogh and Gustav Klimt not only appreciated the style but adopted it.
The European lady wearing Japanese makeup and holding a Japanese fan shows the conflation of European and Japanese art styles, and who better to announce it boldly to the world other than Gustav Klimt?
About the Painting
- Name: Lady with Fan (Dame mit Fächer)
- Artist: Gustav Klimt
- Year Painted: 1918
- Size: 99cm x 99cm
- Medium: Oil on canvas
- Location: Private Collection